The godmother of a little girl slain more than 30 years ago may finally have peace after the Iowa Supreme Court announced Thursday it upheld the conviction of her killer.
The body of 9-year-old Jennifer Lewis, of Rock Island, was discovered burning in a field near Jefferson Elementary School, 1027 N. Marquette St., Davenport, in 1990. Jennifer had been sexually abused and strangled.
Jennifer, who was buried on her 10th birthday, would have been 42 today.
Stanley Liggins, who had been a friend of Jennifer’s family, was sentenced to life without parole for the homicide. After four trials, the Iowa Supreme Court has affirmed Liggins’ sentence of life without parole.
Liggins, who has always claimed he’s innocent, was first convicted of the murder in Scott County in 1993, but it was later overturned.
Liggins’ second trial was held in Dubuque County in 1995, and he was once again convicted but it was later overturned.
His third trial in 2018 resulted in a hung jury.
Now Jennifer’s godmother, Mary Maxwell-Rockwell, reflects on the little girl she loved so much and three decades of seeking justice.
“She was just the girl-iest tomboy you could ever meet,” she said. She loved to wear pretty dresses and sandals, which sometimes ended up disheveled. “She had such a love for life, and people. She just was such a bright shining star,” even though she had some adversity in her life, Maxwell-Rockwell said.
“The one thing she didn’t like was me brushing out her hair. Other than that, we were pretty close.”
Jennifer couldn’t wait to be a big sister, Maxwell-Rockwell said. “Unfortunately she only got that role for about eight weeks. Loved her stepdad. Loved to go on the motorcycle. Loved to go ride her bike. Would make friends with anybody. I never saw her upset. She always had a smile and a hug.”
Maxwell-Rockwell was acquainted with Liggins, too, although she did not know him well.
“Honestly, I thought he was very well mannered, always dressed nice, very quiet, very polite. Just very gentlemanly. The night when they arrested him and I saw his picture, it was like I didn’t even recognize him. It was a totally different person than what I had known,” Maxwell-Rockwell said.
When court proceedings began, Maxwell-Rockwell said through all four trials. “Each one, every day. I’ve been there for all of it,” she said.
On Thursday, she told Local 4 News she still is in shock, and having a hard time wrapping her head around the idea that it’s over.
As she reflects, she well remembers a victim statement she read about Liggins during the proceedings.
“He was a thief, because he stole her from us. He stole birthdays, he stole a possible wedding, more children … he stole her innocence, he stole our peace of mind,” she said.
“I told him that God knew he was guilty, he knew he was guilty, I knew he was guilty and even his lawyers knew he was guilty.”
“Out of everything I said, the only thing that upset him was that I said anything about his lawyers. He started yelling at me about leaving his lawyers alone.”
The last words she spoke to him were “May God have mercy on your soul.”
She still talks to Jennifer sometimes. “I will never stop fighting for her, as hard as the journey has been. I will do anything I can to keep her memory alive.”
“I really, really want to thank Bill Davis, Julie Walton and Mike Walton (with the Scott County State’s Attorney’s office.) Without those three, none of this would have happened.”
“Mostly, I thank God. My beliefs are if justice somehow fell through on earth there was still a bigger system.”
Liggins affected so many lives, Maxwell-Rockwell said. “The saddest part is how many lives he really took that day besides Jennifer’s. Detectives, and reporters, and firemen, and witnesses that saw things they should never have to see, and they have to live with them.”
Jennifer is a hero, Maxwell-Rockwell said.
“I’m just so grateful for 32 years … he cannot hurt another child. She’s a hero. She saved countless children from being hurt. She will always be one of my heroes.”
To read the court brief, which contains graphic details of the crime and may not be suitable for all readers, and see video of the proceedings, visit here.