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Wheaton chief recounts chilling details of murder

Friday, March 16, 2012

Jurors did not have the chance to view Christopher Collings' videotaped confession yesterday (Thursday) but instead listened to a detailed recounting of that confession from the police officer who got Collings to talk about his crimes on the day Rowan Ford's body was discovered in a cave near Powell.

On Thursday, during the fourth day of the Collings' capital murder trial, the jury appeared riveted as Wheaton Police Chief Clint Clark testified about the various encounters he had with Collings in the week following Rowan Ford's reported disappearance on Nov. 3, 2007, leading up to Collings' eventual confession to Clark on Nov. 9, 2007.

Over the course of four days and four different conversations with Chief Clark, Collings changed his story with each telling.

On Nov. 5, 2007, Collings flagged Clark down and seemed anxious to tell the chief, who Collings considered a life-long friend, that Rowan was missing and that he (Collings) was trying to help the Newton County Sheriff's Department find the missing girl.

When asked by Barry County Prosecutor Johnnie Cox about Collings' demeanor during this first conversation, Clark said Collings "appeared excited and maybe a little upset. He didn't seem to be what I'd consider to be his normal self."

Collings also dropped by to talk briefly to Clark at his office at Wheaton City Hall on Tuesday, Nov. 6 and Wednesday, Nov. 7. According to Clark's testimony, Collings seemed to be more and more agitated with each visit but continued to deny he knew anything about Rowan's disappearance.

"He told me he didn't know what had happened to her," said Clark. "He said he had always loved Rowan and wouldn't do anything to her."

During the Nov. 7 conversation, Clark said he told Collings it seemed like he had something on his mind and Clark asked him again if he knew anything about Rowan's disappearance.

At that point, Clark said he read Collings his miranda rights, but before they got very far into the interview, someone walked into the office, and Collings left abruptly.

"I contacted the FBI and told them I felt Chris was near a breaking point," said Clark.

It wasn't until Nov. 9 that Clark had the opportunity to speak with Collings again. After waking up that day and learning that Rowan Ford's body had been found, Clark said he was heading into work when he received a page telling him that Chris and his father, Poncho Collings, were looking for Clark.

After driving around Wheaton and driving out to the Collings' property, Clark said he got a call on his cell phone from Collings. Clark testified that Collings seemed agitated and believed someone was following him in a gray mini van. The two met up at the Collings' place where Collings left his pickup truck and rode with Clark back to the Wheaton Police Department.

"Chris signed another miranda form and then I said 'son it's over. We found Rowan's body this morning,'" said Clark. "He dropped his head and his eyes appeared to be tearing.

"I said 'there's something on your heart and mind you need to tell me Chris. You need to tell me what happened,'" continued Clark. "I suggested Chris had knowledge of what happened. My own belief at that time was that David Spears had probably done something to his stepdaughter."

Clark said he then asked Collings what David Spears had done to Rowan, and Clark said Collings looked surprised.

"He looked at me kind of funny," said Clark.

After that exchange, Clark said someone walked into his office, and Collings told Clark he couldn't talk there, so the two agreed to continue their conversation at the Muncie Bridge on Shoal Creek just a few miles outside of Wheaton.

Sitting side by side on the bridge, Collings, who had begun to cry, began to tell Clark what happened from the time he, David Spears and Nathan Mahurin left Brown's Orchard on the evening of Nov. 2, 2007, for a night of partying, until the morning Rowan went missing.

Collings described a night of drinking alcohol and playing pool at the Spears' home in Stella followed by more drinking and pot smoking at Collings' place in Wheaton. Sometime late in the evening, Mahurin needed to go home, and he and David Spears left to "back road it" to Stella.

"They were afraid to come through town because I would bust them for pot and DWI," said Clark. "He (Collings) said 'I knew if I hurried I would get back to Stella and get Rowan out of there before they got back.'"

Collings said he found Rowan asleep on the floor under a blanket and he picked her up and took her to his pickup truck and laid her in the front seat. Upon arriving at his travel camper in Wheaton, Collings carried Rowan inside the dark trailer, laid her on his bed and had sex with her.

"I asked Chris if Rowan struggled, and he said 'a little bit, but she soon stopped,'" said Clark.

After Collings had sex with Rowan, he told Clark he took her back outside with her in front of him but facing away.

"He had a hold of her with his hands," said Clark. "He said there was enough light that she could she a little bit. He said Rowan looked up and back over her shoulder at him."

Clark said Collings had planned to take Rowan back to her home in Stella, but when he thought she recognized him, he "freaked out."

Collings then described for Clark how he grabbed a coil of chicken house rope that was in the bed of a nearby pickup and took some of the cord, looped it around her neck once and pulled it tight. Clark said he again asked Collings if Rowan struggled.

"'Yeah a little,' he said, 'Then she went to the ground.' I asked him what he did next, and he said, 'I went to the ground with her and kept it tight until she stopped moving.'"

Collings also told Clark how he dumped Rowan's body into Fox Cave and then went back to his trailer in Wheaton where he burned Rowan's slacks and underwear, his clothes, a thin foam mattress and the rope he used to strangle Rowan.

Motion for a mistrial

Before defense attorney Jan Zembles began Clark's cross examination, she made a motion for a mistrial based on statements made by Clark during his testimony in court that she claimed were not part of his depositions.

Cox asked Judge Mary Sheffield to deny the motion, arguing that the words Clark used on the witness stand were not that much different from words he used in his depositions. Cox also reminded the judge that Zembles hadn't started her cross examination of Clark yet and would have the opportunity to "impeach" Clark's testimony at that time if she wished.

"The argument for this mistrial comes down to three words - surprise, spool and foam," said Cox. "The words were subject to clarification during depositions or the words are interchangeable. We don't believe there's any basis for a mistrial."

Judge Sheffield did not grant the mistrial, and cross examination of Clark began and continued throughout the entire afternoon.

As a result of the lengthy cross examination, the only two witnesses to testify on Thursday were Clark and FBI special agent JC Bauer, who was a team leader for the FBI's evidence response team. In that capacity, Bauer testified to collecting two buccal swabs from Collings on Nov. 7, 2007. A buccal (pronounced buckle) swab is a swab of the inside of the mouth to get cells for DNA testing.

Bauer also seized a metal spool from the back of a pickup on the Collings' property as well as carpet from inside the travel trailer where the rape occurred and a cord located on the driver's side floor of the pickup.

All items were admitted into evidence.



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