FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF PHELPS COUNTY The Honorable John
R. Russell, Judge
Collings was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced
to death following a jury trial. This Court affirmed the
judgment and sentence on direct appeal in State v.
Collings, 450 S.W.3d 741 (Mo. banc 2014). Collings
timely filed a pro se motion to vacate, set aside,
or correct the judgment and sentence. Counsel was appointed
and timely filed an amended motion under Rule 29.15, raising
12 claims of ineffective assistance of trial counsel, two
claims of ineffective assistance of appellate counsel, and
claims challenging the constitutional validity of section
562.076 regarding voluntary intoxication and the
time limits. At an evidentiary hearing, Collings's trial
and appellate counsel, two expert witnesses, and five other
witnesses testified. The motion court overruled the motion,
denying relief on all claims. Collings appeals.
Court holds the motion court's findings of fact and
conclusions of law are not clearly erroneous and the motion
court's judgment was not plainly erroneous regarding an
unpreserved claim of error. The motion court's judgment
denying postconviction relief is affirmed.
and Procedural Background
Rowan Ford lived with her mother and stepfather, David
Spears. For several months in early 2007, Christopher
Collings lived with the Spears family but had since moved
November 2, 2007, Spears, Collings, and their friend Nathan
Mahurin were drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana together
at Spears's house. Later in the evening, the three men
went to Collings's trailer and left Ford home alone. On
the way, the men stopped at a convenience store and bought
more alcohol. They continued drinking and smoking at
Collings's trailer for about an hour, at which time
Mahurin and Spears left. Wanting to avoid police, an
intoxicated Mahurin decided to use the back roads to take
Spears back to his home before returning to his own home by
next morning, Ford's mother returned from her overnight
work shift and could not find her. After Ford's mother
contacted the local sheriff's department and reported her
missing, a large-scale search effort was launched to locate
informally spoke to Collings about Ford's disappearance,
and he recounted the events of the evening of November 2.
Collings stated he was unaware of Ford's disappearance
until speaking with the police and had not spoken to Spears
since that night. Collings was interviewed several more times
by local deputies and the FBI over the course of the next few
body was found November 9 in a cave. She was nude from the
waist down except for one sock and was covered in leaves and
debris. The cause of death was later determined to be
strangulation as indicated by the ligature mark on her neck.
She had also been sexually assaulted and suffered injuries to
her vaginal area.
news broke that Ford's body had been located, Collings
attempted to contact Wheaton Chief of Police Clinton Clark,
whom Collings had known since he was a young boy, and the two
men agreed to meet.
told Chief Clark what happened the evening of November 2
after Mahurin and Spears left his trailer. Collings recounted
the same version of events until Mahurin and Spears left
around 11:30 p.m. Collings said he knew Mahurin would drive
the back roads to avoid potentially being pulled over by
police because he was intoxicated. Collings further noted he
took the highway, knowing he would arrive at Spears's
home before the others. When Collings arrived at Spears's
home, he walked through the house, used the bathroom, and
then went into Ford's bedroom. He found her sleeping on
the floor in her bedroom and carried her to his pickup truck.
Collings drove them back to his trailer, and Ford did not
wake during the drive. Once they arrived, Collings carried
her inside, laid her on the bed, took off her pants and
underwear, "used his finger on her a little, " and
then had sexual intercourse with her for four to five
minutes, possibly ejaculating. Ford awoke when he penetrated
her, and she struggled.
told Chief Clark he intended to return Ford to her home.
After sexually assaulting Ford, he led her outside facing
away from him and kept the lights off so she could not see
his face. Collings also ensured he did not speak so Ford
could not recognize his voice. On the way back to the truck,
however, moonlight allowed Ford to see Collings's face.
Knowing she had recognized him, he "freaked out."
Collings saw a coil of cord in the bed of his truck, looped
it around Ford's neck, and started pulling. She fell to
the ground after struggling for a bit, and he held the cord
tight until she stopped moving.
put Ford's body in the bed of his truck and drove off
without covering her body. He decided to put her body in a
sinkhole inside a cave. Once he returned home, he burned
Ford's pants and underwear and the cord he used to
strangle her in a wood stove and burn barrel. Collings also
burned his clothes and the mattress on which he sexually
assaulted her after finding blood on them.
Clark and Collings returned to the sheriff's department
so Collings could recount his story to the other local and
federal law enforcement officials working on the
investigation. This confession was not recorded, and Collings
signed a consent form to search his property. He was taken to
the Barry County Sheriff's Department and, after being
advised of his rights under Miranda v. Arizona, 384
U.S. 436 (1966), provided a recorded statement retelling the
enforcement officers were surprised by Collings's
confession because, until then, they had assumed Spears
killed Ford and Collings simply knew what happened. Local
deputies questioned Spears again in light of Collings's
confession. For the first time, however, Spears implicated
himself. As a result, deputies and Chief Clark questioned
Collings again in a recorded interview. They told him Spears
confessed to calling his mother the evening of November 2,
asking her to bring a vehicle to his house, and then joining
Collings back at his trailer. Spears stated he also had
sexual intercourse with Ford, was present when Collings
killed her,  and helped dispose of her body. Collings,
however, denied Spears was involved.
Collings gave the second recorded statement, his trailer and
adjacent property were searched and authorities obtained
evidence supporting Collings's confession. The evidence
collected included rope and wire inside Collings's truck,
a 55-gallon drum containing remnants of burned items, and a
hair in the bed of his truck.
was charged with one count of first-degree murder. He was
also initially charged with one count of forcible rape and
one count of statutory rape. The rape charges were later
severed from the murder charge, and both rape charges were
eventually dismissed. At the end of the guilt phase, the jury
found Collings guilty of first-degree murder.
the State and Collings's trial counsel presented
testimony evidence during the penalty phase. The State
offered victim impact testimony from members of Ford's
family, friends, and teachers who testified about the impact
Ford's life and death had on them. Collings's trial
counsel called two witnesses to support the defense theory of
lingering doubt regarding Spears's involvement.
Spears's mother also testified in support of the defense
theory of lingering doubt concerning her son's role the
evening of November 2. According to Spears's mother, her
son called around midnight, asked her to drive to his home,
left in her Suburban while she stayed at his house, and then
returned by 7 a.m. A search and rescue dog handler testified
two dogs trained to alert at the scent of human remains
separately alerted on the Suburban's driver's side
door, left rear quadrant, driver's seat, and rear cargo
area. In addition, Collings's trial counsel called his
biological father, brother, and two adoptive siblings to
testify about his childhood.
Collings's trial counsel called Dr. Wanda Draper, an
educator in the field of human development, as an expert to
testify about the phases in Collings's childhood. Her
testimony focused on Collings's emotional development.
Dr. Draper created a "Life Path" detailing severe
emotional neglect during his first six months of life and
confusion in his connections with his biological and adoptive
family members. Dr. Draper concluded, to a reasonable
degree of developmental certainty, Collings suffered severe
emotional neglect resulting in severe disorganized
Draper further explained Collings's history concerning
sexual abuse. He was sexually molested when he was six years
old by his babysitter's 13-year-old son. Collings was
also sodomized when he was 15 years old by his biological
mother's new husband. Dr. Draper also stated Collings
admitted to fondling his stepsister when she was 11, 14, and
16 years old, which Dr. Draper testified was consistent with
Collings being sexually abused himself. Despite her testimony
concerning Collings's history with sexual abuse, Dr.
Draper did not explain any causal connection between his
sexual abuse and any possible neurobiological impacts on
Collings's brain development.
conclusion of the penalty phase, the jury recommended death.
It found Ford's murder involved torture and, pursuant to
section 565.032.2(7), the murder was "outrageously or
wantonly vile, horrible or inhuman." Additionally, the
jury found Ford was a potential witness against Collings in a
pending investigation of her rape and was killed as a result
of her status. See sec. 565.032.2(12). The trial
court sentenced Collings to death, and this Court affirmed
the judgment and sentence on direct appeal.
Collings, 450 S.W.3d 741.
timely filed pro se and amended motions seeking
postconviction relief pursuant to Rule 29.15, raising 12
claims of ineffectiveness of both his trial and appellate
counsel. After an evidentiary hearing, the motion court
denied relief on all claims. Collings now appeals to this
Court will affirm a motion court's judgment denying
postconviction relief unless its "findings and
conclusions are clearly erroneous." Rule 29.15(k);
Johnson v. State, 406 S.W.3d 892, 898 (Mo. banc
2013). A motion court's findings are presumed correct,
and its judgment is clearly erroneous "only if this
Court is left with a definite and firm impression that a
mistake has been made." Id.
prevail on a claim for ineffective assistance of counsel, a
postconviction movant must prove by a preponderance of the
evidence that counsel's performance failed to meet the
test in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668
(1984). Under Strickland, a movant must establish
(1) counsel failed to exercise the degree of skill and
diligence that a reasonably competent attorney would in a
similar situation and (2) the movant was prejudiced.
Id. at 687; Johnson, 406 S.W.3d at 898-99.
In a case in which the sentence imposed is death, prejudice
is shown if the movant demonstrates "a reasonable
probability that, but for counsel's deficient
performance, the jury would have concluded the balance of
aggravating and mitigating circumstances did not warrant
death." Johnson, 406 S.W.3d at 899.
Constitutional Challenge to Voluntary Intoxication Statute
and Jury Instruction
first point on appeal, Collings argues section 562.076 and
its corresponding jury instruction violate his right to
present a defense. Section 562.076.1 provides, "A person
who is in an intoxicated or drugged condition, whether from
alcohol, drugs or other substance, is criminally responsible
for conduct unless such condition is involuntarily produced
and deprived him of the capacity to know or appreciate the
nature, quality or wrongfulness of his conduct."
State offered the following jury instruction based on MAI-CR
3d 310.50: "The state must prove every element of the
crime beyond a reasonable doubt. However, in determining the
defendant's guilt or innocence, you are instructed that
an intoxicated or a drugged condition whether from alcohol or
drugs will not relieve a person of responsibility for his
conduct." Trial counsel objected to MAI-CF.3d 310.50 as
limiting the defense but presented no evidence concerning
Collings's alleged alcohol addiction or its effects on
his mental capacity.
to Collings, this statue and jury instruction denied him due
process by preventing him from presenting evidence rebutting
the State's evidence of his ability to deliberate before
killing Ford. A person is guilty of first-degree murder if he
or she "knowingly causes the death of another person
after deliberation upon the matter." Sec. 565.020.1.
"Deliberation" is defined as "cool reflection
for any length of time no matter how brief." Sec.
contends his trial counsel were constitutionally deficient in
failing to investigate and present evidence challenging the
constitutional validity of section 562.076 and its
corresponding jury instruction. He argues his trial counsel
failed to offer modern scientific research on drug and
alcohol addiction and their effects on brain behavior, which
supports consideration of the fairness and constitutional
validity of statutes restricting evidence of voluntary
a movant claims ineffective assistance of counsel for failure
to locate and present expert witnesses, he must show that
such experts existed at the time of trial, that they could
have been located through reasonable investigation, and that
the testimony of these witnesses would have benefited
movant's defense." State v. Davis, 814
S.W.2d 593, 603-04 (Mo. banc 1991). Collings's
postconviction counsel presented testimony from Dr. Melissa
Piasecki, a board-certified forensic psychiatrist whose
specialty was addiction neurobiology. Dr. Piasecki testified
at the evidentiary hearing that, at the time of
Collings's trial, well-accepted scientific research
recognized addiction as a brain disease. According to Dr.
Piasecki, long-term chemical exposure to addictive
substances, such as alcohol, causes physical changes to the
brain's structure and functioning. These changes
impact compulsive behavior and affect the addict's
decision making, inhibition, planning, and impulse
Piasecki further testified about the genetic component to
substance abuse, stating 50 percent of addiction is traceable
to genetic factors and 50 percent is traceable to
environmental factors. She listed the following as factors
contributing to substance addiction: having a biological
relative with an addiction disorder; childhood trauma or
abuse; loss of parental figures; domestic violence; and
family members with substance abuse and mental health
postconviction counsel retained Dr. Piasecki to determine
whether he had a history of substance abuse and addiction.
Because both of his biological parents suffered serious
problems with alcohol and drug addiction, Dr. Piasecki
concluded Collings was genetically predisposed to addiction.
Dr. Piasecki further testified Collings was first exposed to
nicotine at a very young age and began using alcohol and
marijuana when he was 14 years old. At 15 years old, Collings
spent several weeks in an inpatient facility for adolescents
with psychiatric problems. While there, he was prescribed a
number of medications, including antidepressants and a
sedative. Despite recommendations from the doctors that
Collings continue receiving ongoing psychotherapy and an
antidepressant, his family did not refill his prescription,
and he continued smoking marijuana as a way to self-medicate
to the night of Ford's murder, Dr. Piasecki testified
Collings would have been under "acute significant
alcohol intoxication" after imbibing six six-packs of
Smirnoff Ice Triple Black over the course of six hours with
no food after lunch. That level of intoxication, according to
Dr. Piasecki, would have resulted in aggressive brain
functioning impairments, decreased inhibition, impaired
comprehension, and a significantly compromised ability to
pause and consider actions. She further testified people
under acute significant alcohol intoxication further can lose
their ability to record memories despite maintaining
consciousness. Dr. Piasecki concluded Collings could have
suffered such "blackouts" due to the amount of
alcohol he consumed the night of November 2.
evidentiary hearing, Dr. Piasecki concluded, in her expert
opinion, the jury could not accurately assess Collings's
mental state at the time of the murder without considering
his history of alcohol and drug use. According to her, his
level of intoxication at the time would have substantially
impaired his capacity to appreciate the criminality of his
conduct or conform his conduct to the ...