The jurors have spoken and 37-year-old Christopher Collings will face the death penalty for the 2007 rape and murder of 9-year-old Rowan Ford.
The Platte County jury returned to the courtroom around 6:15 p.m. Friday after only about 45 minutes of deliberations. This followed closing arguments in day three of the penalty phase.
However, the judge isn't bound by that recommendation. And there was a lot of disbelief that jurors came back so quickly.
After the verdict was read, Rowan Ford's mother quickly left the courthouse, too overcome to speak. Colleen Munson's daughter and Rowan's sister Ariane told a bystander they were happy.
For Barry County Prosecutor Johnnie Cox, this day was a long time coming. He says as a father and a prosecutor, this case is difficult.
Wheaton Police Chief Clint Clark, who has known Christopher Collings for nearly two decades, says this day is difficult but necessary.
Collings will be back in Phelps County court May 11, 2012 for his sentencing. David Spears, who is Rowan Ford's stepfather, is also charged in her rape and murder. He'll go on trial in October.
This 2007 case took years to wind through the courts.
On Tuesday, Collings was convicted of First Degree Murder. The following day, prosecutors presented witnesses in an effort to convince the jury to come back with a death penalty recommendation. Collings' defense team then put on witnesses the next two days, trying to get the jury to spare his life and give him a life sentence without parole.
Dr. Wanda Draper, a psychiatric child development specialist, took the stand Friday (see blog below). She described how Collings' volatile biological parents, foster care, adoption, and alleged molestation by his birth mother's new husband impacted Collings.
"When someone (like Collings) is sexually abused, the more likely they are to act out on others in the same way," she said. "In my assessment, he is still stuck in that 14-15 year-old state of mind."
Collings' defense team brought his biological father and siblings to the stand to describe the difficult home life in which Collings grew up. At one point during the testimony of his father, Dale Pickett Collings was brought to tears.
He described the difficult home life Collings grew up in. He admitted to having a serious drinking problem, spending time in prison for shooting a man and having a volatile relationship with Collings' mother who he eventually left.
Pickett says he fought for custody of his young song, which the defense argued earlier prevented Collings from being adopted into the more stable and loving Collings home into which he was eventually adopted.
Pickett also said that Collings was molested by a stepfather at one point. With the defense asking questions, Pickett said his biological son should be spared the death penalty.
"My son made a serious mistake," he said. "Mistake is something everyone makes. A man can change. Regardless of what happens, I love my son."
At the conclusion of his father's testimony, Collings was seen crying, holding a tissue, being comforted by the defense.
The prosecution and defense rested their cases Tuesday morning, followed by closing arguments that began just after 3 p.m. The jury began deliberating just after 5 p.m.
In their closing arguments, prosecutors walked jurors back through the first seven days of the case day by day.
The defense, on the other hand, spent a lot of time asking jurors to consider Christopher Collings' state of mind in the moments before he killed Rowan Ford.
There were 2 phases to this trial: this 1st phase to determine guilt or innocence, and then the 2nd phase, which is the penalty phase.
The case was moved to Rolla on a change of venue from Barry County. After the prosecution rested its case, Collings' lawyers made a motion for acquittal. The judge rejected the motion, at which point the defense rested.
Defense lawyers decided not to call Collings to the stand to testify in his own defense.