Monday, December 12, 2011
Judge's decision to close records in Rowan Ford case is slap in the face to Stella
(The following is my latest column for the Newton County News.)
A little over a month ago, I wrote about the four-year anniversary of the murder of nine-year-old Rowan Ford, a fourth grader at Triway Elementary.
Using online court records, I or anyone else who cared to look was able to find our when hearings or trials are scheduled for the two men, Rowan’s stepfather David Wesley Spears and Chris Collings, who have been charged with the murder.
Not any more.
As of last week, filings involving Chris Collings have been removed from Phelps County online court records, thanks to an order by the judge who will preside at Collings’ trial. He said he wanted to keep the jury pool from being contaminated by potential jurors going online to find out about the case.
The decision makes little sense since the internet is filled with stories, including many on my blog, The Turner Report, about the murder of Rowan Ford. Those who want to research Chris Collings can find out from my postings about the satanic images on his MySpace page and how his “mood” on the day that Rowan Ford was raped and murdered was listed as “horny.”
Online information would also show any potential juror that both Collings and Spears gave law enforcement officers statements saying they had committed the crime.
If they are going to research the crime, there is plenty of information available. They will still be able to access all of it, unless the judge decides to block internet access for Phelps County.
It is highly unlikely that anyone from Phelps County was going to be reading the online court records. The only people affected by the judge’s decision are the people from Stella and this corner of southwest Missouri who want to keep up with developments in the cases against Collings and Spears.
So far, we have waited more than four years. Spears is scheduled to go to trial next November, shortly after the five-year anniversary of Rowan Ford’s death. Collings’ trial is scheduled for February, or at least it was the last time I was able to access the Phelps County online court file.
While the judge, unfortunately, is acting within the law, we no longer will be able to know when hearings are scheduled, when motions are made, and what decisions the judge makes on those motions. Of course, the judge is not being totally unreasonable, according to the Joplin Globe. If you want to go to the courthouse in Rolla, the paper case file is still open to the public.
Phelps County residents, the same ones the judge closed the online records to prevent from contaminating the jury pool, can walk right in and take a look at the file. People who knew and cared about Rowan Ford and those who became interested in the case and in seeing that justice was done for Rowan cannot afford to drive to Rolla to peek at court records on the chance that some new development may have occurred.
Is is just one more slap in the face for Stella. In this case, justice is not only blind, but it has no common decency.