PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — Testimony got underway Monday in the case of a man who allegedly killed a North Valley woman and then hid her body in a wooded area in East Peoria.

Christopher J. Sanders, 45, faces first-degree murder charges related to the death of 50-year-old Mona Ellison who was found dead in a wooded area near East Peoria Community High School on Jan. 21, 2021, one day after she was reported missing.

So far, no motive has been released by Peoria County prosecutors who claim that Sanders killed Ellison in a “brutal and heinous way, indicative of wanton cruelty.” That legalese that, if proven, can raise any potential sentence from a 60-year maximum up to 100 years behind bars. 

Prosecutor Brian FitzSimons told the jury that Ellison was beaten all over her body, saying her face was covered with bruises. She suffered broken ribs, a broken cheekbone and a broken nose, he said, and all while she was still conscious. 

Bart Beals, who is representing Sanders, urged jurors to keep an open mind and to remember that his client was innocent until proven guilty by a reasonable doubt. 

The two had been in some type of a relationship, prosecutors said more than two year ago when Sanders was charged.

Initial testimony focused on blood stains found at two North Valley homes, both on Northeast Madison Avenue and the days before Ellison was found. A neighbor told jurors that he got worried after not seeing her for a few days.

He went to her house, which was left unlocked and found her cell phone on her bed. That was odd, he said, because she wasn’t the type to leave without her phone. Her dog was in the basement, another red flag, and there was dog feces and urine.

That, the neighbor said, was unusual as Ellison was usually with her dog.

Another neighbor reported seeing Sanders near a three-wheeled cart that he said was being used to do laundry. Later, when officers looked at the cart, they found several blood stains that linked both Ellison and Sanders.

Blood was also found in a back stairwell and in a basement of one of the homes on Madison as well, FitzSimons said in his opening.

Peoria police initially responded but were stymied until witnesses reported Sanders carrying large bags and putting them into a cab which he took to the 100 block of Woodrow Drive in East Peoria.

That’s where Ellison was later found.

The trial continues Tuesday.