About four and half years after her death, prosecutors say a raped and murdered nine-year-old girl received justice. After 45 minutes of deliberation, seven women and five men recommended the death penalty."He took her out of her room like a thief in the night," Barry County Prosecutor Johnnie Cox said.."He stole her innocence. He stole her dignity." Investigators found Rowan Ford's partially nude body at the bottom of a McDonald County cave one week after she disappeared from her Stella home. Ford's mother and sister quickly left the courtroom. Her mother, Colleen Munson, was in tears. Her sister, Ariane Parsons, says after waiting more than four years for today she can sum up her reaction in one word -- happy.
On November 2, 2007 Ford's life ended. On March 23, 2012 her confessed killer learned 12 jurors recommended his life also end. "We now assess and declare the punishment of death," Judge Mary Sheffield read from the jury's decision. Collings showed little to no emotion throughout the entire 11 day trial except for when he cried after his biological father finished testifying on his behalf. While the judge read the recommendation, Collings stared directly at her. "Mercy is something that is given by the powerful to the weak," Cox said. "He gave her no mercy." The jurors quickly decided Collings' life should not be spared. "I'm glad we made our case that convincing," Cox said.
"I believe in God and I believe what the Bible says 'an eye for an eye,'" Wheaton Police Chief Clint Clark said. Collings chose to confess to the small town police chief. Clark knew Collings for 17 years of his life. Collings' decision to confess to him changed both their lives. "I've carried this everyday and yes it's been very difficult for me and my family," Clark said. "I just have to give thanks to God, just thank God this part of it is over."
On Friday evening, members of the sheriff's office and prosecution carried load after load of evidence out of the courthouse. "We know this verdict will not bring Rowan back but we hope it provides some sense of justice for her family," Cox said. On the courthouse steps, Cox thanked his co-counsel Assistant Attorney General Elizabeth Bock. She has experience prosecuting capital murder trials however Ford was her first child victim in a capital murder case. "We have lived and breathed this case since 2007 and it's a case that will stay with us forever," Bock said. "These cases they are violent. They're senseless and the victims are truly innocent."
"We speak of justice for Rowan and today, to what extent there could be, we did," Clark said. "Will it bring her back? No, maybe now everyone involved in our little communities can start picking up with their lives. The people in Stella they'll never forget Rowan and the same over in Wheaton. It's left a mark on southwest Missouri."
Parsons says it rained on the day her little sister was laid to rest. It also rained the majority of Collings' 11 day murder trial and penalty phase. To Parsons that is not a coincidence.
Judge Sheffield set a sentencing date for May 11th. At that time, she can decide to accept the jury's recommendation of death or give Collings life without parole. Prosecutors expect his attorneys to file an appeal at that hearing. Jurors said they reached their decision because the prosecution proved two aggravating circumstances. They believed the murder was outrageous, vile, inhuman and involved torture. They also agreed Ford was killed because she was a potential witnesses to the crime of her brutal rape. During two videotaped confessions, Collings said he '"freaked out" and strangled the child because she caught a glimpse of him. He told officers he feared she would be able to identify her rapist. During the investigation and trial, prosecutors examined more than 4,000 pages of reports and discovery. They presented evidence examined at two different crime labs and interviewed dozens of witnesses.
Ford's stepfather, David Spears, also confessed to her rape and murder. His trial is scheduled for October. During Collings trial, his defense presented evidence that a search and rescue canine alerted to the scent of human remains in two locations of a suburban driven by Spears on the night Ford disappeared from her home.
ROLLA, Mo. -- The jury in the Christopher Collings murder trial reached a sentence recommendation: the death penalty.
Tuesday, Collings was found guilty of the 1st degree murder of 9-year-old Rowan Ford. Prosecutors said Collings took Ford from her home, raped her and, with her stepfather, David Spears, killed her and hid her body in a cave in McDonald County in November 2007. Spears is scheduled for trial in October.
Inside the courtroom, jurors stated the murder was "vile" and that the girl was killed because she was a potential witness to a crime.
A jury from Platte County was selected for the trial. The case is in Phelps County after being moved out of Barry County, where the rape and murder occurred, in an effort to ensure a fair trial.