Jury views graphic crime scene photos

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Graphic crime scene photos of 9-year-old Rowan Ford's dead body were shown to the jury during the third day of the Christopher Collings' capital murder trial in Rolla.

One by one, close-up images of Rowan were displayed electronically on a large screen in the courtroom as FBI Special Agent Robert Stewart described what he photographed on Nov. 9, 2007, the day the fourth grader's body was discovered in the bottom of Fox Cave near Powell. At the time, Stewart was serving as a photographer on the FBI's evidence response team.

One photo showed Rowan's body as it was first found by FBI agents, laying up against the side of the cave about 20 feet below the cave's sinkhole-like opening. In that photo, Rowan is wearing a bright red velour top but is naked from the waist down except for a single sock on her left foot; her face is obscured by leaves. Even from a distance, blood and trauma to her vaginal area are clearly visible.

Close-up photos of Rowan's vaginal area and buttocks were also shown, and in both photos, there were signs of tissue damage, bruising and blood. Another photo of Rowan's left leg showed additional tissue damage to her left knee.

After members of the evidence response team moved Rowan's body onto a tarp prior to placing her into a body bag, Stewart took photos of Rowan's face and neck.

In those images, Rowan's face shows significant facial trauma and there are marks on the right side of her neck and along her collar line.

"There appeared to be a mark of a ligature from a string or rope tied around her neck," said Stewart.

Jurors looked at the photos attentively but with little outward emotion. Collings, who had previously looked at photos displayed on the large screen, turned away and never looked at the photos of Rowan's body.

Rowan's mother, Colleen Munson, who was present in the courtroom throughout Stewart's testimony, sat quietly, crying and rocking back and forth until finally she walked out of the courtroom.

Stewart, who now serves as chief division counsel for the FBI office in Kansas City, also testified about pictures he took at the Collings' property on the night of Nov. 9, 2007.

Jurors saw photos of the exterior and interior of two camper trailers on the Collings' rural Wheaton property as well as photos of two pickup trucks that were parked near the trailers. Stewart also took photos of two burn barrels and a burn pile with close-up shots of the contents of the burn pile, which included a piece of partially burned string.

More physical evidence introduced

In the afternoon, Barry County Prosecutor Johnnie Cox and Assistant Attorney General Elizabeth Bock began the process of introducing physical evidence in the case, calling several FBI evidence technicians to the stand. These technicians were involved in processing the crime scenes at Fox Cave and at the Collings' property on Nov. 9, 2007.

Among the items admitted into evidence were three cans containing the contents of a burn barrel found inside a calf barn on the Collings' property.

When attempting to enter into evidence a cord found in the burn pile at the Collings' place, the prosecution seemed to hit a small snag. When evidence technician Chedric Maggart, who bagged the item at the crime scene, opened the bag, the item inside was not what he expected.

After a short recess to sort out the issue, the attorneys returned, and without the jury present, Cox explained that instead of finding a nylon cord in the bag, there was a metal container and a small evidence envelope. The metal container was marked as containing clear fiberglass strands, which Cox believes is the cord.

"The evidence doesn't look like it did when Mr. Maggart put it in there because two different labs have examined and analyzed it," explained Cox.

Defense attorney Charles Moreland, with the State Public Defenders Office who is trying the case with Jan Zembles, objected to the prosecution's attempt to admit the nylon rope and metal container into evidence, but Judge Mary Sheffield overruled Moreland's objection and admitted the items.

Cox said the metal container will be opened and its contents explained when someone from the Missouri State Highway Patrol Crime Lab testifies on Monday.

The prosecution also established a chain of custody for evidence collected at the Collings' property on Nov. 9 and for items collected from the autopsy of Rowan Ford through the testimony of FBI evidence technician Patricia Gentry.

Videotaped confession

Collings has confessed to raping and murdering Rowan Ford and dumping her body in Fox Cave, and it is expected that jurors will have the opportunity to view his videotaped confession tomorrow.

In his taped confession, Collins describes how he kidnapped Rowan Ford from her home in Stella and brought her to his travel trailer in Wheaton where he raped and strangled her to death. In his testimony, Collings insists he acted alone.

Rowan's stepfather, David Spears, has also confessed to the crime, saying he participated with Collings in sexually assaulting Rowan but that he (Spears) was the one who actually strangled Rowan.

Spears, who has also been charged with first degree murder and rape in connection with the death of Rowan Ford, will be tried in October at the Pulaski County Courthouse in Waynesville. His jury will be chosen from Clay County near Kansas City. Cox and Bock will also be prosecuting the case against Spears, and they are seeking the death penalty.

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