Thursday, November 10, 2011

Jennifer Lewis

She was counting down the days until her 10th birthday. When it finally came, they buried her.
Jennifer Ann Lewis had only four more days to wait for her “double-digit birthday” when she was kidnapped from her Rock Island neighborhood, raped, strangled and set on fire near a Davenport elementary school 20 years ago Friday. She would have been 30 years old on Tuesday.

Stanley C. Liggins, a family acquaintance, was her killer. He is serving a life sentence at the Iowa State Penitentiary in Fort Madison. An appeal of his second conviction is pending.

“It is truly one of the saddest cases I tried in 28-plus years,” former Scott County Attorney Bill Davis said Thursday. “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.”

For the people closest to Jennifer, the passage of two decades is not enough to forget those dark days. There never will be enough time.

Mary Maxwell-Rockwell was 25 years old when her “little buddy” from a couple of blocks away was murdered. She had befriended Jennifer’s mother and stepfather, Sheri and Joe Glenn, when they moved to Rock Island from Rockford, Ill., when Jennifer was 7 years old.

“I was visiting a friend in Michigan when I got a phone call saying ‘Little Jennifer is dead, and they think Stanley killed her,’” Maxwell-Rockwell remembered this week. “I came back, and Sheri started begging me. She said, ‘They told me she’s dead, but I know she’s coming home. Please help. She’ll come home for you. She loves you.’”

Tears rolled down her face at the memory.

While some of those memories have grown dim with time, others are as vivid as if they happened yesterday, she said.

Jennifer’s parents were not permitted in the courtroom when Liggins was tried, twice. His first guilty verdict in Scott County was overturned on an evidentiary matter, and he was convicted a second time in a change-of-venue trial in Dubuque.

Since the Glenns were witnesses in the case, Maxwell-Rockwell said she sat through both trials on their behalf. The experience changed her.

“I’ll never forget Bill Davis or (police investigators) Don Schaeffer and Kevin Murphy,” she said. “They put their heart and soul on the line to convict that man.

“I remember, on the day of the first verdict, the police were afraid something bad was going to happen in the courtroom, and Schaeffer said to me, ‘If I yell “Get down!” you get down. And don’t get up until I tell you to get up.’”

Schaeffer remembers it, too.

“We had a lot of very upset people,” he said. “We had to expect the unexpected.”

The unexpected began with the discovery of a child’s smoldering body in a grassy field near Jefferson Elementary.

“I was working on another case that night, and I heard the call go out,” Schaeffer recalled Thursday. “We became aware of a missing-child report in Rock Island, and we started to make a connection.
“There were only two of us who looked at the body at the scene, because we didn’t want to get near it.

We were very protective of the scene, and we held it all night — until we had daylight.”

They built a case against Liggins that was entirely circumstantial, Schaeffer said.

“We worked around the clock on that one,” he said. “We went to New York with the four tires off his vehicle to match a tread. (The vehicle remains in police storage.) We got a match of Jennifer’s fingerprints off a textbook we got out of her locker at school.

“The body was burned beyond recognition, and you don’t generally have fingerprints of a 9-year-old.”
Jennifer’s age made the murder especially hard to take.

“That one affected a lot of people,” Schaeffer said. “A sexual predator and a 9-year-old — as innocent as can be.”

Maxwell-Rockwell said the case left a lasting impression on people outside the family, their circle of friends and law enforcement.

“I think about the people who served on those two juries,” she said. “They had to listen to medical testimony about how injured she was from the rape.

Maxwell-Rockwell cannot stop herself from going over it in her mind, and she sometimes finds clues that eluded her when Jennifer was alive.

For instance, she said, Liggins offered Jennifer his pocket change for her bank whenever he saw her. If she counted it correctly, she got to keep it. If she made a mistake, he dropped the coins back into his pocket.

“Looking back, it was all steps toward earning her trust,” Maxwell-Rockwell said. “You know how somebody cuts you off in traffic, and you think how you’d like to give that guy a piece of your mind?
“Imagine how you’d feel about someone who did what he did to a child you love.”

The desire to exact revenge often was present in members of Jennifer’s family, she said. One relative took a straight razor to a courtroom deposition, knowing Liggins would be present.

“He (the family member) was going to slit Stanley’s throat,” she said. “I told the police about the razor, and they took it from him.

“I have sometimes regretted stopping him.”

But regret is not the hardest part about remembering Jennifer 20 years later.

“Thinking about the last five or 10 minutes of her life, that’s the hardest part of all,” Maxwell-Rockwell said, the tears returning. “She was a little tomboy who loved her bike and was jealous of her baby brother, and we buried her on her 10th birthday with the Cabbage Patch Doll she wanted so badly.

“I just pray that my God numbed her as much as he could in those final moments of her life and just let the angels carry her. That’s what I still pray.”


No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you for commenting.

If you have any names of victims that belong here, please email me at