WAYNESVILLE, MO - It’s been almost five years since I first reported on 9-year-old Rowan Ford. At the time, she was just a missing girl from Missouri whose stepfather was not being cooperative with police. I didn’t know it at the time, but it would take five years for the case to be resolved, and the details of what happened to that little girl would end up haunting me to this day.
Three days after I posted that article in 2007, Rowan’s battered body was located in a sinkhole where she had been dumped after having been raped and strangled to death. The day after, police would arrest Rowan’s stepfather David Spears (who had previously been on the news pleading for her safe return) and his friend Chris Collings. Police would charge them both with Rowan’s rape and murder after Collings admitted to acting alone in abducting, raping, and strangling Rowan, while Spears confessed to participating in the rape of Rowan and being the one who strangled her to death.
A year later, these two men still had not stood trial, and Impqueen wrote a great summary of everything we knew about the case up until then. I highly recommend you check it out if you’re unfamiliar with this case–it has a lot of details I’m not going over here.
Three years later, we posted why we hadn’t been providing updates on Rowan’s murder and the men accused of killing her: there simply weren’t any updates aside from trial delays.
Then, Chris Collings’s trial was supposed to start in April 2011…but a judge declared a mistrial because the prosecution and defense were unable to come up with a jury. It would take another year before Collings would face a jury and subsequently be found guilty of Rowan’s rape and murder.
During the trial, it was revealed that Collings admitted to taking the sleeping fourth grader from her bed and then transporting her to his trailer. Once there, he raped Rowan “missionary style” before taking her outside and wrapping a cord around her neck. He said he held it tight until “she flopped around until she died.” He then put her body in the bed of his pickup truck, drove to the Fox Cave sinkhole, and tossed her in like trash. In March of this year, Collings was sentenced to death.
Now, just weeks before Spears’s trial was to begin, he pleaded guilty to reduced charges of endangering the welfare of a child and hindering prosecution. These charges stemmed from Spears (a) leaving Rowan at home alone on the night she was murdered and (b) because he tried to get a friend to lie about why he left her alone. The forcible rape, statutory rape, and 1st degree murder charges were dismissed by the State. In exchange for his plea, Spears will serve a total of 11 years in prison; the Department of Corrections will determine if Spears will be credited for time served.
A lot of people, including myself, are not happy with this. But here’s why it happened. First, there is no physical evidence, including DNA, linking Spears to Rowan’s rape and murder like there was with Collings. Also, and more importantly, Collings consistently admitted to acting alone and stated Spears had nothing to do with it; he was found guilty and sentenced to death based on his description of events, and the State presented his description of Rowan’s rape and murder as a true account. Had they pursued Spears with the same charges, the State would have had to argue that both versions of events were true, even if they both cannot be.
Such a strategy is forbidden in Missouri and Federal appellate courts because it leads to convictions being overturned as a violation of a defendant’s due process. Had the State gotten Spears convicted of rape and murder, it would’ve done so based on his confession, which was inconsistent with the confession made by Collings–the man they just sentenced to death for the same crimes. This would have opened up the opportunity for Spears to have his conviction overturned, as well as Collings. So that’s that.
I rarely jump on the pitchfork bandwagon on DD because, honestly, I’ve become horribly cynical and apathetic. But something about this case still grinds my gears. Thinking of Rowan, who had already lived a rough life in her 9 years, standing outside Spears’s trailer in the middle of the night naked and bleeding from a vicious rape, listening to the goats in the yard bleating while her “Uncle Chris” strangled her to death…man, five years after and I still get pissed thinking of the terror she experienced.
But you never know–justice may still pay Spears a visit, just not in a way anyone expects.Tags: Chris Collings, Crime, David Spears, Missouri, Murder, Rape, Rowan Ford