Teen to stand trial in kidnapping of former girlfriend

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Jun. 9—A 17-year-old Joplin girl testified this week that a former boyfriend climbed in her car with a gun a month ago and forced her to follow another car occupied by friends of his.

The testimony of the girl at a preliminary hearing Thursday in Jasper County Circuit Court ultimately led to Judge Joseph Hensley ordering 18-year-old Malachi L. Willard to stand trial on single counts of kidnapping and vehicle hijacking as well as two counts of armed criminal action.

The girl told the court that she was out driving around Joplin on May 11 when she noticed a vehicle following her and surmised that Willard, with whom she had previously been in a boyfriend-girlfriend type of relationship, might be an occupant.

"I was kind of panicked at the time," she said. "I was scared."

She managed to lose the tailing vehicle after making several turns and drove to Cunningham Park to sit in a parking lot and use her phone. She had contacted her mother about being followed and was talking to a girlfriend on her phone when Willard suddenly appeared at her car window armed with a handgun.

She said he and a friend climbed in her car, and Willard, who had smashed her phone, cocked the gun and ordered her to follow the other vehicle, which she did.

"They had a gun, and I didn't want anything to happen to me," she said.

Eventually, he had her stop for gas at a convenience store at North Range Line Road and Zora Street while he went inside. But not before Willard handed the gun to someone in the trailing vehicle, according to a probable-cause affidavit written by Joplin police Officer Mackenzie Roach.

Police, who had been alerted to what was happening by the girl's mother and had been using her cellphone signal to locate her, arrived at the store's lot just as the other vehicle was leaving, Roach testified at the hearing. Willard was detained coming out of the store and placed under arrest based on the girl's account of what happened.

Roach said the second vehicle returned to the convenience store lot later that night and was stopped by police. A search of the vehicle and its occupants turned up two magazines of 9 mm rounds, but no gun.

Defense attorney Brian Glades asked the girl on cross-examination why she never ran or sought help from someone when Willard went inside the store if she had been abducted as she claimed. She said she was too afraid of what he might do if she tried to get away from him.

The girl also denied under Glade's cross-examination having invited anyone to Cunningham Park to smoke pot with her that night or having hit Willard while they were driving about town.

The court has set Willard's initial appearance in a trial division on June 29.

Jeff Lehr is a reporter for The Joplin Globe.