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Tonya Ford has been denied a request for a new trial, despite her attorney citing several reasons he believes one is warranted.
A jury found Ford guilty on Aug. 24 of shooting and killing her husband, David Ford, 40, who worked as a police officer in Lebanon. She was sentenced on Tuesday to serve 20 years in prison for her crime.
On Sept. 5, Ford’s attorney, Danny Butler of Greensburg, filed a motion requesting that Ford be granted a new trial, citing six reasons.
First, Butler claims 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 commit the crime, Butler claims, jurors couldn’t have found Ford guilty under that instruction.
Second, Butler says jurors’ cellular phones weren’t taken from them until they were sequestered after deliberating for nearly an entire day without deciding Ford’s guilt or innocence.
Butler said having cell phones during deliberation gave jurors the opportunity to review material other than the evidence they were charged to consider and to possibly conduct their own investigation into the issues they were considering.
Third, Butler claimed that a bailiff had a conversation with one or more jurors without court officials being present.
Fourth, Taylor Circuit Court Judge Dan Kelly allowed a video of an illegal drug transaction between Linda Williams, Ford’s mother, and a confidential informant, which Butler claims 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.
Fifth, Butler said there were an “inordinate” number of law enforcement personnel present during the trial.
“Their presence, though not surprising in light of David Ford’s service as an officer, was pervasive and authoritative such that the jury members were subjected to a very intimidating atmosphere throughout the trial.”
Butler said jurors saw the law enforcement officers when they arrived at the Taylor County Judicial Center, left for lunch and went home after each day. He said this caused jurors stress and limited their ability to focus on the evidence presented in the case.
Lastly, Butler said, all of those five issues considered together “tainted” the trial to the extent that they prevented the jury’s ability to fairly consider the evidence when deliberating.
In response to Butler’s motion, Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney John Miller, the prosecutor in the case, dismissed each of the reasons that Ford should be granted a new trial in an answer he filed on Monday.
In his answer, 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 to make arrangements after learning they would be sequestered to a local hotel for a night. As proof of this, Miller filed an affidavit written by a juror that states that none of the jurors used their cellular phones to research or talk about the case.
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. Miller said the bailiff testified before Kelly and said he had no substantive conversations with jurors.
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 testified that Ford didn’t call and confess to killing her husband. As such, Miller said, the interview was played to impeach Williams.
“From the Commonwealth’s vantage point, it appears that Linda Williams’ testimony was ignored in whole or large part by the jury, other than the entertainment value of her testimony.”
Miller said the prosecution did not rely on Williams’ testimony to prove Ford’s guilt. He said conversations with jurors have revealed that they didn’t either.
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.
“ ... The court requested security for purposes of ensuring that peace and order was maintained in the courtroom when the verdict was read,” Miller said. “As the court is well aware, there was a great deal of tension in the courtroom by virtue of the polarized views of the respective families of the victim and the defendant.”
Miller said jurors wouldn’t have even been aware that law enforcement officers were in the courtroom until returning to it after they had reached their decision.
“ ... From the Commonwealth’s vantage point, this was a very clean trial. Counsel for both parties conducted themselves well,” Miller said. “There was no error by the court in any form or fashion.”
Before Ford was sentenced on Tuesday morning, Kelly heard Miller and Butler argue the motion for a new trial.
Butler explained his reasons for asking for a new trial and added another one, claiming that testimony from a former co-worker of Officer Ford’s was hearsay and shouldn’t have been admitted.
Miller said, “We just beg to differ.”
Jurors having cellular phones during deliberation, Butler said, is a major cause for concern.
“That could taint the whole process,” he said.
Miller said he, too, was concerned about jurors having phones. However, he said, they were given strict instructions to not use them and were told to only consider the evidence presented during the trial.
Kelly said the case law Butler cited as proof that cellular phones shouldn’t be allowed actually states that they didn’t provide grounds for a new trial.
Butler said the bailiff talking to jurors while they were deliberating wasn’t appropriate.
“That is a taint on the privacy of the jury,” he said.
Miller said the conversation was only to see if jurors were finished deliberating and didn’t influence them in any way.
Kelly said he didn’t notice an unusually large amount of law enforcement officers present for the trial.
With that said, Kelly denied Butler’s request for a new trial. An official order stating that hadn’t been filed in court records as of press time. An appeal of that denial also hadn’t been filed at press time, but is expected to be soon, as Butler previously indicated that he will be appealing the case. Butler did not return a phone call to comment on Kelly denying his motion. Miller said, “I do believe that Ms. Ford had a fair trial and I think the court appropriately denied her motion.”
Ford, 39, will serve 85 percent of her 20-year prison sentence — 17 years — before being eligible for parole. She will be 56.