2:14 PM

Chris Collings mug shot at the time of his arrest

Opening statements have been made and testimony is underway this afternoon in one of the most anticipated murder trials in the Ozarks in years.

Christopher Collings, 37, is charged with capital murder for November 2007 rape and strangulation of nine year-old Rowan Ford.

KSPR's Emily Rittman is tweeting live from the courtroom in Phelps County, where the case was moved on a change of venue.  The jury, which consists of seven women and five men (there are four alternates,) and took two weeks to pick in Platte County, were bused to Phelps County yesterday.

Before the jury even heard opening statements, defense attorney's asked the judge not to allow the prosecutor to show pictures of Rowan to the jury saying it could, "inflame the jury.  Cox's response to the court was he was not trying to inflame jurors.....merely identify the victim.  Judge Mary Sheffield will allow one school photograph of Rowan to be shown to jurors at this point in the trial.

(For probable cause statement against Collings click this link)

In his opening statements, Barry County prosecutor Johnnie Cox told jurors that Collings, Rowan's stepfather, David Spears (who reported the little girl missing at 5:41 on November 3rd,) and another friend of the men Nathan Mahurin had spent the day of November 2nd drinking and smoking pot.
Cox says Collings, who had lived at the girl's home for a period and had moved out about a week before Rowan went missing, kidnapped a sleeping Rowan from her bedroom in Stella.  Cox told jurors that the little girl did not wake up until the bottom half of her clothing was removed inside Collings dark trailer near Wheaton. After the sexual assault, and as Collings was guiding Rowan out of his trailer, she caught a glimpse of his face and he made the decision that he had to kill her and then choked the girl with a cord.   

Chris Collings most recent mug shot (Platte County SO)

He allegedly loaded the little girl's body in his truck and drove around for a bit before dumping her remains in a sinkhole in McDonald.

The official cause of the nine year-old girl's death was asphyxiation.

Cox said several agencies, including the FBI, searched for Ford until her body was found in Fox Cave on November 9th.

Defense attorney's told jurors that Collings, who knew Spears for about eight years before Rowan's murder, allegedly made four different unrecorded statements to authorities.  They say he felt disrespected by law enforcers so he sought out a friend of his, Wheaton police chief Clint Clark. 

The first statement is said to begin at 5:29 p.m. on November 9th, with the second getting underway shortly after 8 p.m. the same day.  Defense attorney's say he told investigators he "freaked out and acted alone.  Defense attorney's say interrogators "were relentless in trying to get Chris to say that someone else was involved, specifically David Spears.

The attorney's that are trying to save Collings life say their client consumed about thirty bottles of Smirnoff Black Ice and "smoked a joint the size of his thumb and doesn't remember anything.  "Whoever actually killed Rowan, Mr. Collings says it was he. This was an intentional killing. We are not arguing that. We're arguing about what was his state of mind," says Defense Attorney Janice Zembles, who wants jurors to come back with a second-degree murder conviction.
Rowan's mother, Colleen Munson
Prosecutors have called Colleen Munson, Rowan's mother, as the states first witness.  She broke down when she told jurors the last thing her little girl said to her, "She said bye...I love you, mommy - before Colleen left for work.
The states next witness is Nathan Mahurin.  Mahrin testified that he, Collings and Spears spent the afternoon drinking and getting high.

The states first law enforcement witness is Newton County chief deputy Chris Jennings.  Jennings testimony about the search for Rowan lasted a little over thirty minutes before the Judge called the court to recess for the night. 

Testimony resumes tomorrow morning.

Day two:

In day two of the capital murder trial of Christopher Collings, one of the men accused of raping and strangling Rowan Ford in November of 2007, jurors were shown graphic pictures of the dead girl and heard from law enforcement officers who investigated the case.
Newton County chief deputy Chris Jennings says Collings was sober and coherent when he was interviewed about his involvement in Rowan's disappearance, going so far as to offer help to Rowan's mother after he was interviewed by authorities. 

Newton County Lt. Trevor Williams told jurors that Collings was cooperative.  He says Collings told him that he (Collings,) Spears and Nathan Mahurin played pool and were drinking at Spears' house.  The trio left to go to Collings and stopped along the way and bought more alcohol. 

Collings told investigators he was so close to the family the fourth grader called him, "Uncle Chris."

The search for Rowan didn't start until late the day after the girl went missing, which Williams said he thought was "odd.

Defense attorney's say the Spears home was dirty and in disarray and pointed out that Rowan could not sleep in her bed because of a cockroach infestation.

Prosecutor Johnnie Cox told jurors that after Collings returned to his camper trailer after dumping Rowan's body in a sinkhole known as Fox cave he noticed there was blood from Rowan on his clothing and in the camper so he burned the mattress, he and Rowan's clothes....and the cord used to strangle the girl.

FBI agent James "Benny" StinnettCollings became a suspect because, "He was one of the last people to see Rowan Ford alive."

Stinnett told jurors that when he spoke to Collings, the same man who babysat and helped the little girl with her math homework, on November 5th he told him he believed Rowan's stepfather David Spears was involved in her disappearance.   Collings told authorities he would be willing to wear a wire to assist in their investigation, but that request never materialized.

During a search of the Spears home, a computer was seized after investigators saw pornography on it.  They also took Spears' mother's vehicle in to process for evidence.

Former McDonald County deputy Michael Hall, one of the deputies involved in finding the little girls body, told jurors he helped lower a fellow deputy into the sinkhole and when he came back up, "The color drained from his face when he looked back up at me. I then called my chief deputy and advised him....we possibly found the body of Rowan Ford."
Testimony resumes tomorrow morning:

Days 3 - 8:

Law enforcers continued to take the stand in the capital murder trial of Collings. 

Wheaton police chief Clint Clark told jurors that Collings confessed to him that he acted alone when he killed Rowan Ford. 

Former Barry County detective and current McDonald County sheriff Rob Evenson videotaped Collings confession.  On the tape, Collings maintained that he acted alone and said DNA evidence would prove it.

The state rested their case this morning (03-20-12) and defense attorney's in turn did the same. The only witness called by the defense was Rowan Ford's stepfather, David Spears, who is also charged with capital murder for the girls death. He invoked his fifth amendment privilege when he took the stand Saturday.

Jurors could get the case this afternoon after closing arguments, which are scheduled to begin at 3 p.m.  Each side will have one hour to make final arguments to the jury.

In a death penalty trial there are two phases, the trial setting and then, if convicted, jurors will hear more testimony before deciding on what punishment to impose...life in prison without the possibility of parole or the death sentence.

Spears is scheduled to stand trial for his part in his stepdaughter's murder in November in Pulaski County, where the case was moved on a change of venue.
03-20-12 5:09 p.m.:

Jury Now Deliberating Collings Fate:

Collings fate is now in juror's hands

The jury is now deliberating whether Christopher LeRoy Collings will live or die for killing nine year-old Rowan Ford in November of 2007.

During closing arguments this afternoon, Elizabeth Bock, who is with the Missouri Attorney Generals Office, told jurors that they had heard a lot about drugs and alcohol playing a part in Ford's murder, but Collings wasn't impaired enough to not be able to drive around looking for a place to dump the fourth grader's body and that he was cognizant enough when he got back to his farm to burn he and the little girls clothing, and the mattress on which he raped her.

Bock told jurors he raced the eight miles from his trailer near Wheaton to the little girls house in Stella before David Spears, who he had been partying with and who is also charged with murder in connection to his stepdaughter's death, arrived home. He threw the blanket off of Rowan before he kidnapped her knowing she would never need it again, Bock said.

Trailer where Rowan Ford was raped

Bock said Collings lied on his videotaped confession when he said Rowan cried a little during the sexual assault, "That girl was screaming.....she was screaming."

When he pulled the rope tight around Rowan's neck, Collings said "It seemed like hours," Bock reminded jurors of Collings own words from his taped confession.

Defense attorney's want jurors to convict Collings of second-degree murder. The say it comes down to their clients state of mind at the time of the murder. They say Collings takes full responsibility for Ford's murder, but it was a spur of the moment decision and not premeditated nor did their client take the time to coolly reflect killing the girl.
In a death penalty trial there are two phases, the trial setting and then, if convicted, jurors will hear more testimony before deciding on what punishment to impose...life in prison without the possibility of parole or the death sentence.


Anonymous said...

I just read through most of those tweets. I'm not sure I could handle seeing pictures of Rowan's body. I have a seven year old daughter and that would just tear me up inside. I hope both those men fry!!!!

Anonymous said...

If we put them in jail for years, give em cable tv, free meals, a bed, better medical care than the working class, and a free gym I'm going to die. I say release em into a.platoon of angry mothers. Save the tax payers money, and give little Rowan the justice she deserves. I hope they at least get raped in prison....