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Convicted child killer looks to state supreme court to avoid death penalty

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Rowan Ford Rowan Ford
David Spears David Spears
Christopher Collings Christopher Collings

A convicted child killer who has been sentenced to death looks to the Missouri Supreme Court to avoid the death penalty.

A hearing was held Wednesday for Chris Collings, the man convicted in the rape and strangulation death of nine-year-old Rowan Ford.  In May of 2012 a jury unanimously agreed to a death penalty sentence.  A judge in Phelps County then officially signed Collings death warrant.

In documents filed with the supreme court Collings' attorneys claim that he should either be given a new trial, be sentenced to second degree murder instead of first degree, or re-sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.

The Public Information Officer for the Missouri Attorney General's Office tells us both prosecution and defense presented their arguments today.  The judge will release a decision at a later date.

The disappearance of the Stella, Missouri girl sparked a massive week-long search in November 2007 before her body was found hidden in a cave.

Her stepfather, David Spears, was initially charged with murder as well.  Due to lack of evidence, Spears is instead serving 11 years behind bars for child endangerment and hindering prosecution.

 

COURT SUMMARY IN THE MATTER OF THE STATE OF MISSOURI V. CHRISTOPHER L. COLLINGS - CHALLENGE TO DEATH SENTENCE

Christopher Collings was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death for the rape and strangulation of a nine-year old girl. At trial, Collings filed motions to suppress his statements and evidence gained from a search of his property. The trial court overruled Collings' attempt to admit a videotape of a conversation between himself and the Wheaton chief of police, who was a close friend. The trial court also overruled Collings' objections to several photographs from the crime scene that the state submitted into evidence and to the state's closing argument. In finding Collings guilty of first-degree murder and sentencing him to death, the jury determined the murder involved torture; was outrageously vile, horrible and inhuman; and the victim was a potential witness in investigating the rape. Collings appeals. 

Collings argues the trial court erred in overruling his motion to suppress evidence. He contends several of his rights were violated because he did not confess voluntarily and did not understand his rights under Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966). Collings asserts 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 videotaped conversation with the Wheaton chief of police would have revealed he was pressured to forgo constitutional rights. He argues several of his rights were also violated by the trial court's refusal to hear his evidence. Collings contends the trial court also erred in overruling his motion for judgment of acquittal and sentencing him to death because the state failed to prove he coolly reflected before the murder, which is an element of first-degree murder. He asserts the trial court should not have admitted evidence gathered at his house because it was unreliable, speculative, misleading evidence and deprived him of rights to a fair trial and freedom from cruel and unusual punishment. Collings argues the trial court should not have overruled his request for mistrial because the state's closing argument incited the jury to decide based on fear and anger instead of objective reason. He contends the court should not have admitted evidence that his father believed in the death penalty. Collings asserts that an admitted jury instruction regarding requirements to establish eligibility for a life sentence improperly relieved the state of its burden of proof. He argues he should not have been convicted of aggravated first-degree murder because the state failed to plead the appropriate facts for aggravated murder. Collings contends the death sentence should be vacated and he should be sentenced to life without parole. 

The state responds the trial court did not err in overruling Collings' motion to suppress evidence. It argues there was sufficient evidence that Collings' was read his Miranda rights before his voluntary conversation with the Wheaton chief of police. The state also contends the trial court did not abuse its discretion in its evidentiary rulings at trial because the court considered the excluded evidence. It asserts Collings failed to prove the court improperly excluded influential evidence. The state argues there was sufficient evidence that Collings coolly reflected to support his conviction for first-degree murder. It contends the evidence seized from Collings' property were properly admitted at trial because he admitted to the crime and to destroying evidence. The state asserts Collings was not prejudiced because the evidence was logically and legally relevant. It argues the trial court did not err in overruling Collings' motion for mistrial because statements regarding another person's involvement in the crime were proper. The state contends Collings' father's statements regarding the death penalty were proper impeachment evidence that did not prejudice Collings nor violate rules against testimony. It asserts the state was not required to prove aggravating (increases degree of liability) circumstances outweighed the mitigating (reduces degree of liability) circumstances. The state argues aggravated first-degree murder was proper because the state is not required to plead aggravating circumstances in the charging document. It contends Collings' death conviction is proper because the sentence was properly imposed, the evidence supports the aggravating circumstances, and the sentence is not excessive or disproportionate.

Collings brief (PDF - 141 pages)

State brief (PDF - 106 pages)

Collings reply brief (PDF - 36 pages)

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