The promise made to child murder victim Jennifer Ann Lewis still stands: No matter how many times Stanley Liggins appeals, Mary Maxwell-Rockwell will be there.
Liggins, now 51, has twice been convicted in the 9-year-old Rock Island girl's murder. Jennifer's smoldering body was found in a garbage bag in the schoolyard at Jefferson Elementary, Davenport, in 1990. She had been sexually assaulted and strangled.
After a Scott County jury found him guilty of the murder in 1993, the Iowa Supreme Court overturned the conviction on a technicality. He was again found guilty in a change-of-venue trial in Dubuque in 1995. On Wednesday, the Iowa Court of Appeals reversed the second conviction.
"I guess, any time you hear there's a chance ... there's that little shadow of a doubt where you know this could happen," Mary Maxwell-Rockwell said of the reversal Wednesday. She is a family friend who sat through both trials on behalf of Jennifer's parents, Sheri and Joe Glen, who were not permitted in the courtroom. "If this goes to court five more times, I'll go five more times.
"I made the promise to Jennifer the day she died that I would see this through. If Liggins wants to drag it out another 30 years, I'll be there — from start to finish.
"I am not ever going to let Liggins think for one minute that little girl's life means any less today than it did the day he took it. He will not do this to another child."
The appellate judges did not rule on whether there was sufficient evidence to convict Liggins. Their ruling addressed his claims the state, meaning Scott County prosecutors, suppressed evidence that could have helped clear him.
In a review of the second trial, a special investigator discovered 77 police reports that were not shared with the defense. It also was discovered that one of the state's "crucial" witnesses was a paid police informant, a fact that should have been disclosed to Liggins' attorney. The appellate court ruled the withholding of the reports and the paid-informant status of the witness amounts to suppression of evidence, undermining their confidence in the verdict.
"While we respect the Court of Appeals' decision, we intend to ask the Iowa Supreme Court to review the decision," said Geoff Greenwood, spokesman for the Iowa Attorney General's office, which is handling the appeal.
Scott County Attorney Mike Walton was out of town Wednesday and said he could not comment on the case until he had an opportunity to read the ruling.
Meanwhile, Liggins' attorney, Kent Simmons, praised the appellate court's ruling.
"There are hundreds, and probably thousands, of innocent people sitting in prison all over this country because of police misconduct," he said. "Stan Liggins is one of them. He is innocent. He has suffered more than enough, and he deserves to be released."
In 2010, on the 20th anniversary of Jennifer's murder, former Scott County Attorney Bill Davis, who prosecuted Liggins, said, "It is truly one of the saddest cases I tried in 28-plus years. It marks you. I have put several people in prison for the rest of their lives, and I can’t tell you their names.
“But I sure as hell can tell you who Stanley Liggins is and what he did.”
Maxwell-Rockwell said many people have been scarred by Jennifer's murder but said she prefers the ongoing grief and outrage over any chance the 9-year-old will be forgotten.
"I went up last night (Tuesday) and put flowers on her grave," she said. "I told her how beautiful she was and told her we'll keep fighting."