The Iowa Court of Appeals on Wednesday granted a new trial Wednesday for an Illinois man twice convicted -- once by a Dubuque County jury -- of killing a 9-year-old girl in 1990 in Davenport, finding that prosecutors should have told his attorneys a key witness was a paid police informant.
Stanley Liggins, 51, of Rock Island, Ill., was convicted of first-degree murder in the Sept. 17, 1990, death of Jennifer Lewis, who had disappeared from a store in her Rock Island, Ill., neighborhood. She had been raped and strangled, her body wrapped in a plastic bag, doused with gasoline and set on fire near a Davenport elementary school.
A Scott County jury first convicted Liggins in 1993, but the Iowa Supreme Court overturned the verdict. A second jury in Dubuque County convicted him in 1995, and another appeal of that conviction was denied the next year.
Through a process, known as postconviction relief, that allows those convicted of a crime to ask the court to review their case, Liggins filed two applications for review. In one he claimed that state prosecutors kept from his attorneys important evidence that could have helped his defense.
A judge ordered a review of evidence and found 75 police reports that had been in the possession of prosecutors but not defense lawyers. The judge found that the reports could have been helpful to Liggins' defense but concluded they would not have changed the outcome of the verdict. The judge denied Liggins' appeal, and the appeals court in 2000 affirmed that decision.
The second appeal raised a new claim alleging that a key witness used by prosecutors was a paid Davenport police informant and prosecutors had failed to disclose that and it only surfaced in 2002 during an appeal hearing. A district court judge again concluded it wouldn't have changed the outcome of the trials.
The appeals court, however, concluded in the opinion released Wednesday that failure of the state prosecutors to reveal the paid informant status of a key witness is significant.