JEFFERSON CITY, Mo.-- An Arkansas man who was sentenced to death for the rape and murder of a nine-year-old girl in 2007 lost an appeal Tuesday.
The Missouri Supreme Court affirmed the conviction and death sentence of Christopher Collings from Lonoke, Arkansas.
Collings was convicted in 2012 for the crimes against Rowan Ford, of Stella, Missouri. Ford's body was found in a cave in McDonald County two weeks after she disappeared.
A jury from Platte County found him guilty March 20, 2012, after a week-long trial in Rolla.
July 23, 2012, attorneys for Collings filed a Notice of Appeal of the death penalty with the Missouri Supreme Court. Under Missouri law, such appeals are automatic in capital punishment cases. That appeal was denied.
In his appeal, Collings argued his attorneys did not provide effective 'assistance of counsel'. It was denied by the Missouri Supreme Court.
Collings has filed another motion to appeal.
Collings' Stepfather David Spears, was sentenced to 11-years in prison in 2012. Spears pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of endangering the welfare of a child and hindering prosecution. He was originally charged with forcible rape, statutory rape, and first-degree murder.
Those charges were dismissed by the state.
Collings repeatedly contacted Wheaton Police Chief Clint Clark, who he and his family had known for 17 years.
Collings confessed in person to Clark.
Clark says when Collings was about to tell him what he had to say, he put his hands out to be handcuffed. When Clark said that wasn't necessary, Collings said, "It will be."
Collings once flagged Clark down on the street, showed up at his office, and called him on his cell phone. Each time, Collings said he was participating in the search for Rowan and he loved her.
"I told the person I was speaking with I felt Chris was at a breaking point," said Clark.
Several times when Collings contacted Clark, Clark read him his Miranda rights.
Clark thought Collings had information about David Spears, Rowan Ford's stepfather. But what he heard next shocked him. Collings said he left his house after a night of drinking and smoking pot with two men including David Spears, but when the men left he raced to Rowan Ford's house in Stella, Missouri.
Clark then said Collings told him he returned to a mobile home and raped the 9-year-old girl. After he brutalized her, he carried her out to his pickup truck. Collings said he was going to take her home until this happened.
"Said that she looked back at me and I thought she recognized me," recalls Clark. "She knows who I am."
Clark says Collings decided then to end Rowan Ford's life with a piece of rope from the bed of a truck.
"And he motioned like this and said, 'And I pulled it tight.'"
Clark remained collected, but it was obvious as he paused often during testimony holding back emotion this story was hard for him to tell.
After the last conversation Collings had with Clark, Clark told Collings he would have to tell many other people. Next Collings gave a videotaped confession.
Family, Friends Speak at Trial
Ford's mother Colleen (Spears) Munson, while on the stand, said "Rowan loved dolls. Loved her bike." She added Rowan and her sister went to church two or three times a week. She also said Collings helped Rowan with school work.
"I've had to fight to get life back," she said, fighting back tears. When asked by a prosecutor about life after Rowan's death, she responded, "Not much of a life."
She told jurors about the last time she saw her daughter alive November 2, 2007. "Right before I went to work she ran downstairs to give me a hug and a kiss."
"After you learned she had been killed, what kind of impact did that have on you at the time?" asked the prosecutor.
"Totally devastated myself and my other children," she replied.
Tammy Marshall, Rowan's fourth-grade teacher, also took the stand. She said Rowan waited at the door to get into school.
"Rowan was sweet," she recalled. "One of those students people take notice of," Marshall says students planted a Dogwood tree in Rowan's honor outside their classroom window.
"I miss seeing her smiling face," she said. Not a single day goes by I don't think of Rowan."
Todd Holt, another teach of Rowan's, took the stand. "Rowan was quiet. She was shy. She was a charismatic little girl. A girl every teacher would hope for."
"How often do you think of Rowan?" asked Bock.
"Every single day. I cannot walk into my classroom, I'll never be able to walk into the classroom ever again and not be able to tell you exactly where Rowan was sitting the day she went missing. Exactly where her desk was sitting the day she found out she was gone."
Holt and Marshall say despite living growing up in poverty, Rowan had a rich spirit.
"She was the kind of student every teacher would want. Rowan could be silly and goofy, but she always knew when it was time to be serious and to buckle down and to work. Her work ethic was -- she just didn't know how to quit."
Holt said Rowan's older sister, Ariane Parsons, was supportive of her and would help her get ready for school.
Parsons read from a diary that she had left behind when she moved from the spears home to Mississippi. Rowan had left her own passage in the diary on September 29th, just a few days before she disappeared.
"Dear Diary, my sister moved," read Parsons. "What should I do? I will talk to you in the morning."
"I felt the responsibility because I left her there," added Parsons, "knowing that I was there supposed to be protecting her from any harm from anybody."
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