WAYNESVILLE, Mo. — David Spears, 29, the stepfather of Rowan Ford, was sentenced Wednesday to 11 years in prison after reaching a plea agreement in the death of the 9-year-old girl.
Spears pleaded guilty Wednesday to child endangerment and hindering prosecution charges in the 2007 death of Ford. As part of the plea deal, Barry County prosecutors dismissed first-degree murder and rape charges against Spears.
According to Associated Press reports, "Barry County Prosecutor Johnnie Cox said in a statement Wednesday that his office agreed to dismiss the first-degree murder and rape charges against Spears because the physical evidence failed to implicate him or was inconsistent with statements Spears made to investigators.
Spears was sentenced to seven years in prison on the child endangerment charge and four years on the hindering prosecution charge. The sentences are to run consecutively.
After hearing the news, Newton County Sheriff Ken Copeland was interviewed by Neosho Daily News.
"Almost five years ago, one of the most horrific crimes in my career occurred in Stella," Copeland said. "That was the kidnap, rape and murder of Rowan Ford, 9. I have never seen so many law enforcement agencies involved and worked more closely together. More than 75 FBI agents, highway patrol, all of the agencies in Newton County assisted us on that. We cannot manufacture evidence, we had what we had. We had the same evidence four and a half years ago as we do today; nothing changed all of that time. What we had is Spears confessing that he witnessed the murder. We have Chris Collings whose sitting on death row, there is no doubt in any of our minds that he abducted, raped and murdered little Rowan. During that time, Spears admitted and give the interrogators a confession that he was present."
Collings, 37, of Wheaton, was convicted on rape and murder charges and sentenced to death earlier this year for the child's death. His execution date hasn't been set.
Collings repeatedly confessed to the abduction, rape and slaying of the child, and has said that he alone sexually assaulted and strangled the girl at his home near Wheaton.
"David Spears and Chris Collings are responsible for the death of this little girl," Copeland added.
Inside Copeland's office there is a picture of Ford that has been there for nearly five years.
"It is still there today, I have looked at more today than I have in the past several months," the sheriff said. "It will stay there. As far as I am concerned, it will be there as long as I am sheriff, s a reminder not of just her, but all of the little kids out there that are mistreated and abused. It is a reminder to me and to all of us that we need to do more for our kids."
Ford's body was discovered in a sinkhole in eastern McDonald County nearly a week after she was reported missing from her Stella home in the early November 2007. Ford had been missing since about 10:45 p.m. Nov. 2, 2007, and was the subject of a massive manhunt that involved local law enforcement agencies, volunteers, the Missouri State Highway Patrol and the Federal Bureau of Investigations. The search included areas of Newton, McDonald and Barry counties.
On Nov. 8, 2007, Spears led Newton County Coroner Mark Bridges to the site. At one time, Spears worked as a mechanic and salesman for Bridges' automotive business. Both men looked inside the sinkhole, which is located about 10 miles south of Stella near Mike's Creek near Powell.
Bridges told the Neosho Daily News he saw some items inside the cavern-like area which raised suspicions, and contacted FBI agents. They, in turn, contacted the McDonald County Sheriff's Department. Deputies Jake Boles and Mike Hall checked out the sink hole the following morning and discovered the girl's body about 20 feet below ground.
"I definitely wanted to search the cave and I think, subconsciously, that David did, too. He took me to the cave for some reason," Bridges said. "I guess his first thought was I used to be the sheriff, and could help. David kept telling me 'Maybe she's at a friend's house.' "
According to Copeland, Spears and Collings both confessed to the rape and murder of the child.
"The story we got was that Chris came over and got the little girl and took her to his home in Wheaton," Copeland said. "This was during the first time that David was gone."
David Spears told investigators he and a man named Nathan went to Wheaton to take Collings home, and then went to buy more beer. The other man then took Spears back to the Spears home in Stella around midnight.
"David said he came in, checked Rowan's room and found she was gone," said Copeland. "He said he knew Chris had gotten her and taken her to his house. He got there, and Chris was raping her. He raped her too. Then they thought they would be in trouble, so they killed her and threw her in a hole."
David Spears has told authorities he went out a second time about 1:30 the morning of Nov. 3 after calling his mother, Myrna Spears, to borrow her truck as he was out of gas. She came over with the vehicle and David Spears left while she watched television. She told authorities she did not check on the girl's whereabouts during this time. David Spears was gone until about 7 a.m.
Copeland said it was during this block of time that Spears went to Collings' home and found him raping Rowan Ford.
"He originally stated he was driving around," the sheriff said. "Now we know that they were hauling her body off from the crime scene."
According to a probable cause affidavit, the girl was strangled with a rope or cord.
Spears gave authorities conflicting stories since he and Ford's mother, Colleen Spears, reported the girl missing at about 6:50 p.m. Nov. 3.
Colleen Spears arrived home from a night shift at the Jane Wal-Mart Supercenter shortly after 9 a.m. Nov. 3 and noticed something was amiss. Usually, on Saturday mornings, Rowan would greet her mother in the driveway. However, that Saturday morning, there was no hug or kiss, no shout of elation that Mom was home.
Spears originally told investigators he was asleep on the couch when his wife awakened him to tell him Rowan was missing. He told authorities that he told Colleen Rowan might have told him she was spending the night at a friend's home, but he didn't remember.
The couple spent the next several hours waiting for a phone call from Rowan. When they didn't receive one, they began searching for the girl, with neighbors pitching in to help. Later, these neighbors and other volunteers placed flyers around town about the missing girl.
Ford's body was found on Friday, Nov. 9, 2007, in a sinkhole, which is located about 10 miles south of Stella near Mike's Creek near Powell.