Wyoming Man Accused Of Killing Woman, Having Sex With Body Smart Enough For Trial

Multiple brain injuries and a low IQ won’t keep a Wyoming man from facing prosecution on claims that after murdering a woman and having sex with her body, he tried to hide her body in Park County, a judge has ruled.

Clair McFarland

April 18, 20244 min read

Joseph underwood
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

A Wyoming man accused of murdering a woman, hiding her body in a Park County ravine then leading law enforcement on a high-speed chase is mentally competent to be prosecuted if he has extra help, a judge has ruled.

The Cody judge’s decision diverges from an earlier ruling by a Cheyenne judge that the defendant could not be made mentally fit for court.

Joseph Underwood, 49, has been either facing or dodging prosecution since he was first accused of strangling Cheyenne resident Angela Elizondo to death in November 2019. Court documents claim Underwood killed Elizondo, had sex with her dead body, transported her remains (and a dead fetus she’d miscarried prior) to Park County and disposed of Elizondo in a ravine.

The Laramie County District Attorney’s Office charged him with murder, but the judge dismissed that case after deciding Underwood could not be made mentally competent to stand trial.

Now Cody Circuit Court Judge S. Joseph Darrah is testing that decision.

Park County Says Nope

Park County authorities immediately charged Underwood after the Cheyenne court dismissed his case, with disposing of a body to conceal a felony.

Underwood argued again that he was not competent to participate in his own case.

Darrah ruled last week that Underwood is competent enough, but those involved will have to slow court hearings down, allow frequent breaks and allow Underwood to have a “liaison” to monitor and guide him through the real-time proceedings.

Underwood injured his brain in a motorcycle accident in his late teens and harmed it again by shooting himself in the side of the head in 2014.

Two psychologists, one hired by the state and one hired by the defense, sparred in a March 27 competency hearing over whether Underwood could be exaggerating his brain damage symptoms to avoid prosecution. They also debated whether any criminal trial could be slowed and altered enough to keep Underwood in the loop.

Darrah agreed with the state-hired psychologist Dr. Steven Nelson that it could be done. He also agreed with both doctors that Underwood knows what he’s facing in this case.  

Defense-hired psychologist Dr. Daniel Martell had agreed at the competency hearing that Underwood knows what’s going on, but said it would be unworkable to slow any proceeding down enough to keep him informed in the real-time, high-stress environment of a criminal trial.

Next Steps

Darrah ordered Underwood to submit a modification request form to the Wyoming Judicial Branch’s Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) coordinator, then to file the coordinator’s decision with the court.

Darrah then will schedule a hearing discussing implementing whatever accommodations are necessary.

Then he’ll schedule a preliminary hearing, which is a hearing at which Underwood would have the opportunity to argue that the state doesn’t have probable cause to keep prosecuting him.

It’s Something

The new charges against Underwood include concealing a felony by transporting a dead human body, unlawful possession of a firearm as a felon, interference with a peace officer and fleeing or attempting to elude police officers.

The maximum sentence Underwood could now receive is 14.5 years in prison and $16,750 in fines. If convicted of the first-degree murder charge he had been facing in Laramie County, he could have been sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of the death penalty.

At Underwood’s competency hearing, Park County deputy attorney Jack Hatfield II became animated, saying Underwood’s gestures and facial expressions indicated he had no trouble keeping up with what was going in on court that day.  

Hatfield also brought Elizondo’s mother to testify at the competency hearing. She wept and pleaded with authorities to allow justice for her daughter after nearly five cruel years of waiting.

Underwood’s defense attorney Sam Krone, however, urged Darrah to be cautious with regard to Underwood’s constitutional right to participate with competence in his own case.

Clair McFarland can be reached at clair@cowboystatedaily.com.

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Clair McFarland

Crime and Courts Reporter