The attorney for a Missouri man accused of killing his Chinese wife says the woman's death in 2019 was a tragic accident.

During opening statements Tuesday, defense attorney Scott Rosenblum said Joseph Elledge pushed his wife, Mengqi Ji, during an argument at their east Columbia apartment, causing Ji to fall and hit her head. He says Ji went to bed and Elledge discovered she was dead the next day.

Rosenblum acknowledges that Elledge didn't call 911 but instead put Ji's body in his car.

Prosecuting Attorney Dan Knight says Elledge abused his wife during their marriage and on the night she died. Elledge is charged with first-degree murder in Ji's death.

Mengqi Ji was reported missing to police by her husband on Oct. 10, 2019. Elledge reported that his wife had not come home the night before.

Elledge was later arrested Oct. 25 and charged with child abuse and neglect.

Law Enforcement officers found evidence of abuse to the couple's only child during Ji's missing person investigation. Elledge was considered the primary suspect in his wife's disappearance.

Investigators then spent over a year searching for Mengqi Ji's body in the Lamine River in Cooper County due to cell phone records from Elledge.

Her decomposed remains were located March 25 by a hunter at Rock Bridge Memorial State Park, about five miles south of Columbia. Positive identification was confirmed April 6.

In February of 2020, a grand jury indicted Elledge on a charge of first-degree murder for the death of Ji.