One of the attorneys for Stanley Liggins has filed a motion seeking a new trial just two weeks before he is scheduled to be sentenced to life without parole in the September 1990 murder of 9-year-old Jennifer Lewis.
Black Hawk County Public Defender Aaron Hawbaker said in a motion filed Wednesday morning that a Black Hawk County jury's guilty verdict on April 2 was “contrary to the weight of the evidence in that, given the absence of any direct proof of defendant’s guilt, the circumstantial evidence did not and could not as a matter of law establish his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.”
He also pointed to previous defense motions to dismiss the case that claimed there were a “multitude of reasons why it is impossible for defendant to have received a fair trial in light of the passage of time, unavailability of witnesses and the late revelation of suppressed reports.”
Seventh Judicial District Chief Judge Marlita Greve set a hearing date for May 30, the same day as his sentencing.
Scott County Attorney Mike Walton said Wednesday via email that the defense motion has not alleged anything new and "merely reasserts claims that the judge has already found to be without merit."
"The motion also makes the erroneous claim that there was no direct proof," he said. "As far as direct evidence, numerous witnesses testified about their observations and discoveries. Clearly this was sufficient for the jury to reach a unanimous guilty verdict (for the third time). There was little forensic evidence, but this was explained by the proof of intentional destruction of such evidence, most notably pouring gasoline and setting fire to specific areas of Jennifer’s body after she was sexually assaulted and murdered."
Lewis' burning body was found in a field near Jefferson Elementary School in Davenport around 9 p.m. Sept. 17, 1990. She was a few days shy of her 10th birthday.
A search for Lewis began when she did not return home after buying a pack of gum for Liggins at a liquor store near her Rock Island home earlier that night.
Liggins, who knew Lewis' mother, Sheri McCormick, and her then-husband, Joseph "Ace" Glenn, quickly became a suspect. Prosecutors say witnesses saw Liggins in a red Peugeot talking to Lewis, who was on her bike, about a block from her home before she disappeared.
Witnesses at trial also said they saw the Peugeot near Jefferson school around the time of the fire and the vehicle smelled like gasoline a day later.
Liggins has long maintained his innocence. The defense argued his was a failed investigation filled with reasonable doubt and no forensic evidence linking Liggins to Lewis' murder.
They also argued police failed to investigate other suspects.
Liggins was convicted in Lewis' death in trials in 1993 and 1995 and sentenced to life without parole. Both convictions were overturned. His third trial began in late August in Waterloo, where it had been moved due to pretrial publicity, but ended in a mistrial when the jury could not reach an unanimous verdict.
His fourth trial began March 12 in Waterloo and ended with a guilty verdict.