Waller pleads not guilty at arraignment on murder charge

Tuesday, August 14, 2012
Clay Waller listens to testimony against him during his preliminary hearing Wednesday morning, July 25, 2012 at the Jackson Courthouse. Waller is charged with the murder of his wife Jacque who went missing June 1, 2011. (Laura Simon)

Clay Waller pleaded not guilty Monday to a first-degree murder charge, as the high-profile case involving the disappearance of his wife nearly 14 months ago continues to grind its way through the criminal court process.

In a hearing that lasted just a few minutes, Waller never spoke as his public defender Chris Davis entered a plea of not guilty to the murder and two evidence tampering charges. Davis also waived the rest of the arraignment proceedings just before Judge Ben Lewis scheduled a case review for 9 a.m. Oct. 22.

Prosecutors say Clay Waller killed his wife Jacque after a fight over a pending divorce and money, though no body has been found.

Following the hearing, Davis said he also filed a request for discovery, the pretrial phase in which both sides obtain evidence from the other. While the Cape Girardeau County Prosecuting Attorney's Office technically has 10 days to respond, Davis said he was told he would have the evidence by the end of the day Tuesday.

Davis expects to receive reams of police reports as well as audio and visual reports that police gathered during their investigation into the disappearance of Clay Waller's estranged wife, who went missing June 1, 2011. Clay Waller is said to be the last one to have seen Jacque alive in a case that drew national exposure.

Davis also signaled his intention to file for a change of venue within the next 10 days, which is the allotted window outlined by statute. The reason, he said, should be obvious, considering the copious amounts of media coverage since Jacque's disappearance. Finding a fair, impartial jury in Cape Girardeau County that had heard nothing about the case would be an impossibility, Davis said.

A meeting between Davis and the prosecutor's office will take place, Davis said, for the two sides to try to agree on a county away from Southeast Missouri and likely away from the eastern portion of the state. If the sides can't agree, the judge will hear arguments and decide at the October hearing, Davis said.

But Davis said not to expect a trial until at least next spring.

"In a case like this, with such voluminous discovery, it will take a great deal of time to get through it all and decide what I want to file," Davis said.

The only person in court with connections to the defendant or the alleged victim was Laura Long Helbig. Helbig is the spokeswoman for Jacque Waller's family, including her parents. After the hearing, Helbig, who drove from De Soto, Mo., for Monday's proceedings, said Jacque's family has been kept up to date by law enforcement and prosecutors about what to expect.

"So I think it's been more frustrating for her friends," Helbig said. "The family has been kept well-informed."

As far as the seemingly slow pace toward a trial, Helbig said the family is not surprised and expected the defense to "drag things out."

The family still holds out hope that Jacque's remains will be found, Helbig said.

Said Helbig: "They're waiting to find out where their daughter is. That's what's frustrating for them."

smoyers@semissourian.com

388-3642

Pertinent address:

100 Court St., Jackson, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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