Ford appeals murder conviction

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Attorney says jurors were intimidated, allowed to make cell calls while deliberating

By Calen McKinney

After disagreeing with a local judge on several issues, Tonya Ford has appealed her murder conviction to a higher court.

A jury found Ford, 39, guilty on Aug. 24 of shooting and killing her husband, David Ford, 40, who worked as a police officer in Lebanon.

On Sept. 18, Taylor Circuit Court Judge Dan Kelly sentenced Ford to serve two decades in prison. Since murder is a violent crime, she will have to serve 85 percent of the 20-year prison sentence — 17 years — before being eligible for parole. She will be 56.

At the sentencing hearing, Ford’s attorney, Danny Butler of Greensburg, argued several reasons that his client should be granted a new trial, which Kelly denied. An appeal was filed in Ford’s case three days later.

Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney John Miller, the prosecutor in the case, said he has received a copy of Ford’s appeal and forwarded it to the Attorney General’s office, the office that handles all appeals on the Commonwealth’s behalf.

Butler did not return a phone call to comment on the appeal.

The appeal will be taken directly to the state’s Supreme Court. Appeals are taken to the Supreme Court when they involve a prison sentence of 20 years or more. If the case had involved a prison sentence of fewer than 20 years, it would have been heard at the Court of Appeals.

After being received at the Supreme Court, Ford’s case will proceed with attorneys filing briefs and answers. If Supreme Court justices deem it necessary, they will schedule a hearing date for oral arguments.

When they have all the information necessary, the justices will decide the case and issue an opinion about it.

As of press time, a representative from the Attorney General’s office had not yet been appointed to represent the prosecution.

Ford will remain incarcerated as her case moves through the appeals process. As of Tuesday afternoon, she was housed at the Taylor County Detention Center.

In his request for a new trial, Butler claimed that the prosecution failed to produce any evidence to show that Ford conspired with another person to kill her husband.

When jurors received instructions in the case, they were told they could find Ford guilty if they believe she shot and killed Officer Ford or helped someone else commit the crime. Without hearing any evidence to prove that she helped someone kill Officer Ford, Butler claimed, jurors couldn’t have found Ford guilty under that instruction.

Butler claimed jurors’ cellular phones weren’t taken from them until they were sequestered after deliberating for nearly a day without unanimously deciding Ford’s guilt or innocence.

Butler also claimed that a bailiff had a conversation with one or more jurors without court officials being present.

Kelly allowed a video of an illegal drug transaction between Linda Williams, Ford’s mother, and a confidential informant, which Butler claimed contains hearsay statements that shouldn’t have been allowed. Butler says the statements, which include Williams saying Ford called her and confessed to killing her husband, tainted the jury pool.

Butler said there were an “inordinate” number of law enforcement personnel present during the trial, who were intimidating to jurors.

In response, Miller said there was a large amount of circumstantial evidence in Ford’s case. One such piece of evidence, he said, was that only someone very close to Officer Ford could have stepped behind without raising suspicion and shoot him.

“There was significant evidence that the only person who could have done so was the defendant and, in fact, the defendant admitted as such in her interview with Detective [Israel] Slinker.”

Miller said jurors have admitted to making cellular phone calls, but they were made only to make arrangements after learning they would be sequestered to a local hotel for a night.

As far as a bailiff having a discussion with jurors, Miller said, conversations that bailiff had with the jury centered on whether they had reached a unanimous decision and whether they wanted to continue deliberating.

Regarding the admittance of the video depicting Williams, Miller said Butler did not object to the video being played for the jury.

He said Williams, to the prosecution’s surprise, testified that Ford didn’t call and confess to killing her husband. As such, Miller said, the interview was played to impeach Williams.

There is no evidence that the presence of law enforcement intimated jurors during the trial, Miller said, and there weren’t a large number of officers present until the jury was ready to return its verdict, which jurors couldn’t have seen because they were held in a private room.

Ford was accused of shooting and killing her husband on Feb. 10, 2009. She pleaded not guilty in November 2010 and has maintained her innocence since.

Officer Ford was found shot to death in his head at his Graham Road home in Campbellsville. Ford called the Campbellsville/Taylor County E-911 Center and said she had arrived at the home and found that her husband had been shot.

Taylor County Coroner Terry Dabney said in 2009 that an autopsy confirmed Officer Ford’s death as a homicide.

A year and a half after Officer Ford’s death, on Oct. 19, 2010, a Taylor County grand jury convened in special session to hear from 17 witnesses and then issued an indictment charging Ford with murder. She was arrested the following day.

She was released from the Taylor County Detention Center on Nov. 9, 2010, after family members posted a $30,000 cash bond. She remained free on bond until her conviction.

Ford’s story will be featured on an upcoming episode of “Snapped,” a true crime documentary television show that airs on the Oxygen network. Her episode, which will feature interviews with several attorneys, investigators, friends and family members, is slated to air in late December.