WATERLOO, Iowa — Stanley Liggins kept his composure as a judge read the word he has heard twice before — guilty.
After several hours of deliberations over two days, a Black Hawk County jury on Tuesday convicted the 57-year-old of first-degree murder in the September 1990 death of 9-year-old Jennifer Lewis of Rock Island.
“Thank God!” the little girl’s mother, Sheri McCormick, exclaimed as Judge Marlita Greve read the verdict aloud.
She cried and tightly hugged family friend and Lewis’ godmother, Mary Maxwell-Rockwell.
After jurors left the courtroom, the two women hugged Scott County Attorney Mike Walton and Assistant Scott County Attorney Julie Walton.
The clicking sound of the handcuffs being placed on Liggins’ wrists was audible just before he was led out of the small courtroom.
He will be sentenced May 30. First-degree murder carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Liggins’ attorneys, Black Hawk County public defenders Aaron Hawbaker and Nichole Watt, declined to comment after the verdict.
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“Obviously very happy with the verdict,” Mike Walton said outside the courtroom. “It was a very hard-fought case over several years. Had a lot of support, police department stuck in there, sheriff’s department, all the agencies that were involved. We had a lot of support. Couldn’t have done it without them.”
He said there also were a lot of citizens and witnesses involved in the case who sacrificed a lot over the years. The case has been the most litigated case he’s ever handled, Walton said.
Liggins was convicted in Lewis’ death in 1993 and 1995 and sentenced to life without parole. Both convictions were overturned. His third trial began in late August in Waterloo, but ended in a mistrial when the jury could not reach an unanimous verdict. His fourth trial began March 12 in Waterloo, where it had been moved because of pretrial publicity.
Maxwell-Rockwell, who has been a frequent fixture in the courtroom gallery at Liggins’ trials and court hearings, said she was ecstatic with the verdict and believed the prosecution’s case was “airtight” during the latest trial.
“I don’t see it moving on from this point, not that he won’t try, but I really don’t foresee him getting another shot in the courtroom like this,” she said. “So I feel like finally, maybe we’re done. Today’s day 10,445 of this fight.”
Lewis’ burning body was discovered in a field near Jefferson Elementary School in Davenport around 9 p.m. Sept. 17, 1990. She was sexually abused and strangled before being doused with gasoline and set on fire, prosecutors say.
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 and her then-husband, Joseph “Ace” Glenn, quickly became a suspect. Prosecutors say witnesses saw Liggins in a red Peugeot vehicle talking to Lewis, who was on her bike, about a block from her home before she disappeared.
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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.
Liggins’ attorneys also argued police failed to investigate other suspects.
Mike Walton said Tuesday he believed the case is a “very solid circumstantial case.”
“Always a challenge with no forensic evidence, (but) that can be explained,” he said.