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Supreme Court Takes Up Collings Death Appeal Today

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – A man convicted of murder and sentenced to death for the rape and strangulation of nine-year-old Rowan Ford is set to appear today before the Missouri Supreme Court.
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – A man convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death for the rape and strangulation of nine-year-old Rowan Ford is set to appear today before the Missouri Supreme Court to appeal his conviction on Wednesday, Jan. 8.

Christopher Collings was convicted in 2012 for the murder of Rowan in 2007. Authorities found Rowan’s body in a sinkhole in McDonald County and Collings later confessed to her abduction and murder.

During his trial, Collings filed motions to suppress his statements and evidence gained from a search of his property.

According to court documents, the trial court overruled his attempt to admit a videotape of a conversation between Collings and the Wheaton chief of police, who was a close friend.

The court also overruled Colllings’ objections to several photographs from the crime scene that the state submitted into evidence and closing argument.

Upon the jury’s findings and receiving the death sentence, Collings appealed.

According to Collings, the trial court erred in overruling his motion to suppress evidence. He also says several of his rights were violated because he did not confess voluntarily and did not understand his Miranda rights.

Collings says the trial court abused its discretion and erred by barring his evidence and allowing the state to present its evidence at the suppression hearing because his conversation with the Wheaton chief of police would have shown he was under pressure to forgo constitutional rights.

Among other contentions, Collings says the death sentence should be vacated and he should be sentenced to life without parole.

According to court documents, the state contends Collings' death conviction is just because the sentence was properly imposed, the evidence supports the aggravating circumstances, and the sentence is not excessive or disproportionate.

KOLR10’s Laurie Patton will be covering the appeal hearing,  Wednesday, Jan. 7. Tune in to KOLR10 News at 5 and 6 p.m. for her reports.

Background of the case:

On the night of Nov. 2, 2007, Rowan's mother Colleen went to work, leaving the girl with her step-father, David Spears. 

Collings and another friend were already at the house drinking Smirnoff Ice and drinking in the basement.  Later, the men left to buy more alcohol and drop by Collings' residence, leaving Rowan by herself.  While at Collings', the three men drank, talked and smoked marijuana.

According to court documents, Spears and his friend left Collings' residence about 30-60 minutes later.

At about 9 a.m., Colleen came home and could not find Rowan.  Spears told Colleen that Rowan was at a friend's house, but could not say which friend.  Colleen wanted Spears to call the police, but he would not and kept insisting that she was at a friend's house.

Later that day, around 5-6 p.m., Spears called the Newton County Sheriff's Department to report the girl missing.

Patrolmen searched for Rowan and the Highway Patrol tried to locate her friends.  Spears, Collings and their friend were considered suspects because they were the last to see Rowan.

During the next five days, police and the FBI continued to search for Rowan with the help of the community and Collings.

Collings kept in contact with a long-standing friend, Wheaton Chief of Police Clinton Clark, during the search period. Collings had known him since he was a young boy.

On Monday, Nov. 5, Clark contacted the Newton County Sheriff's Office and the FBI to inform them that he had contact with Collings' that day.  He said he believed Collings knew something about Rowan's disappearance and offered to help the investigation.

Days later, on Nov. 9, Rowan's body was found in a 10-15 feet deep sinkhole/cave called Fox Cave.  The girl was naked, except for a shirt and sock.

Later that day, Collings contacted Clark, fearing for his safety.  Collings said a grey van had been following him around town and he was finally able to shake it.  Clark urged Collings to meet him in his office, and Collings obliged.

Court documents say Collings began to speak about Rowan when somebody came in to the office.  He would not speak with anyone else around.  Clark suggested they drive to Muncie Bridge, a few miles out of town.

Clark drove to the bridge with Collings, who was not under arrest at this time.  Clark and Collings sat on a slope near the bridge and Collings recounted his story.  It was the same story he had previously told law enforcement, up to the point when Spears and their friend left Collings residence.

Crying, Collings confessed to raping and killing Rowan.

Driving back to his office, Clark called the city clerk and asked the building be emptied.  When Collings and Clark went back to the police chief's office, Collings recounted his statement in front of six law enforcement officers.

Collings was handcuffed and taken to the Barry County Sheriff's Department.  While there, he was read his Miranda rights and gave a videotaped statement.

During the statement, Collings says the night of Nov. 2 he drank five six-packs of Smirnoff Ice.  Collings said, after his friends left, he knew he could beat Spears home.  He said he didn't know why he drove to the house and did not intend to take Rowan.

While at the house, he searched though a few rooms and found Rowan on the floor under a blanket.  In his truck, Collings said he started to think about having sex with the girl on the way home.

At his residence, he had vaginal intercourse with Rowan for a few minutes, Collings admitted.  The girl awoke and struggled after Collings penetrated her, he said.

Collings said he intended to return Rowan to her bed and led her outside, facing away from him so that she couldn't see his face.

While outside, however, Rowan looked back and saw Collings by the light of the moon.  Collings said he knew she recognized him and he freaked out.  

He used a coil of cord he found in the bed of his pickup to strangle Rowan to death.

Initially, Collings said, he wanted to leave the girl in a creek, but did not want her to be discovered quickly, so he left her in Fox Cave.

Back at his residence, Collings discovered blood on his mattress and clothes.  In a wood stove, he burned Rowan's pants, underpants, his clothes and the rope.  He burned the mattress outside in a 55-gallon drum with some old carpet, to help it burn, he said.

Collings denied that Spears or anyone else was involved in Rowan's death.  He said he had been "bawling like a baby all afternoon" and felt guilty and remorseful.

On December 21, 2007, Collings was charged with one count of first degree murder, one count of forcible rape, and one count of statutory rape.

The jury found Collings guilty and recommended death.  It found that the murder involved torture and was outrageously and wantonly vile, horrible and inhumane and Rowan was killed as a result of her status as a potential witness.

For more details in the Colllings case, please see the documents above.

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