The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Opinion

September 28, 2012

Our View: Rowan Ford’s justice

If Rowan Ford were still alive today, she would be 14.

In a perfect world, she would have a teen crush on a boy in her class, be heading to football games on Friday nights and saving her babysitting money for her first car.

The reality is that, even in life, Rowan’s world was a far cry from what a child should have to endure. She lived in filth. She was neglected. And, at age 9, she was left to fend for herself most of the time.

Yet, the little girl with the beautiful smile is remembered to this day as a bright light. An inquisitive, friendly child, she sought safe harbor at school and church.

But it wasn’t enough to keep her safe.

On a November night in 2007, Rowan was abducted from her Stella home where she was left all alone. She was brutally raped, strangled and dumped down into a sinkhole.

Earlier this year, Chris Collings 37, was convicted and sentenced to die.

Ah, justice was served, we thought.

But, during his trial he repeatedly claimed to investigators five years ago that he acted alone, even though another man, Rowan Ford’s stepfather, David Spears, also confessed to the crimes.

This week, murder and rape charges were dropped against Spears, 29, who has been in jail awaiting trial. Even though deputies have said that Spears confessed to details he wouldn’t have known unless he had been there when the crime was committed, prosecutors say they have no physical evidence to back up his claims. A plea bargain was offered. Spears was sentenced to seven years for child endangerment and four years for hindering prosecution. He’s likely to get credit for time served in jail and will be out of jail in a couple of years.

Many of our readers were outraged at the plea deal.

The prosecution, fearing that they might jeopardize Collings’ conviction if they took Spears to trial, have settled for the “this is as good as we can do” brand of justice.

“Without physical evidence that is consistent with David Spears’ statement, the state cannot and will not pursue a course of action that would put the Christopher Collings conviction at risk,” Cox said.

Cox said he knows many people are convinced that Spears was involved. But he cannot be certain without any evidence to support his confession, he said.

“I cannot in good conscience ask a jury to convict a person of murder in the first degree and ask that he be put to death if I am uncertain about his involvement,” Cox said.

We have asked ourselves over and over this week if indeed there has been justice for Rowan. It’s a question we cannot answer for our readers.

Nothing about the circumstances of Rowan Ford’s life was just or right.

However, in death, the forever young girl has demanded our full attention. We owe it to her to watch over all the other Rowan Fords of this world.

Only when children can live in a society that keeps them safe is there really true justice.  

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