We are appealing to you to review the case of Tony Ford, a man convicted and sentenced to death, based solely upon highly questionable eyewitness testimony, and with no physical evidence linking him in any way to the crime for which he was convicted.
In 1991 Tony gave a ride to two brothers, Van and Victor Belton, who advised him they wished to collect a debt. He waited in the truck as the two brothers forced their way into the residence of Armando Murillo and his family. Inside the house an argument ensued which culminated in one of the brothers, Victor, shooting and killing Armando Murillo. Van Belton was arrested the following day after being identified by one of the occupants of the house who had attended school with him. When questioned, Van Belton named Tony Ford as the man who had been with him inside the house that night, instead of his brother Victor.
During searches of both the Beltons and Tony Fords residences property belonging to the victims of this crime was found at the Beltons home along with ammunition that was consistent with the weapon used in the commission of the crime. By contrast, nothing whatsoever was found at Tony Fords residence.
When shown a six person photo spread in which Tony appeared at number 5, the first eyewitness indicated number 4 as the man who had shot and killed her brother. However, at some stage, and with no explanation, the number 4 was overwritten with the number 5. This has never been explained or justified in any way by the detectives in the case. Copies of both the original and amended statements, clearly showing this amendment are in Tony Fords lawyers possession and have been raised on appeal but have never been addressed.
The second eyewitness identified Tony in the exact same photo spread as her sister had seen, after Tonys picture had been heavily publicized in the media as the main suspect, and also after having ample opportunity to discuss her sisters identification with her. This eyewitness also testified on cross examination at trial that she hadnt seen who had shot her brother as she had her head buried in a pillow the whole time of the shooting.
In 2007 during investigations for the documentary The Wrong Man two ex NYPD detectives, Jerry Palace and Reggie Britt, were approached by the court reporter who witnessed Tonys trial. This court reporter told how he had witnessed the prosecutors in the case attempt to conduct a highly unethical identification of Tony Ford outside of the courtroom just moments before the trial began. Prosecutors pointed to Tony and asked the two eyewitnesses in the case if he looked like the man who shot and killed their brother. The eyewitnesses appeared to him uncertain and eventually answered only that it could be him. Not only was this conduct by the prosecution highly questionable practice , but it also demonstrates just how uncertain the witnesses identification of Tony was. Further it calls into question the testimony of one of the eyewitnesses that she would never forget a face like his.
Following Tonys conviction the same court reporter overheard police officers who had worked on the case discussing his conviction and expressing their shock that he had been convicted, as they were aware that the word on the street was that another man, Victor Belton, had committed the crime. Despite their knowledge of this, Victors role in the crime was never investigated.
Tony was denied the right to an eyewitness identification expert at trial. Many years later Professor Malpass of the University of Texas at El Paso conducted a study of the eyewitness identification in Tony Fords case. This study demonstrated that the similarity between Victor Belton and Tony Ford far exceeded the similarity between either of them and any of the other fillers used in the photo array. The study further showed that in a six person photo spread the likelihood of a person being picked out is approximately 16.7%. The rate at which Tony would likely be picked out of the photo array used for identification in his case was approximately 56.4%. This highlights just how heavily weighted the photo spread used to convict him was. Professor Malpass concluded that had Victor Belton been included in the photo array, and Tony Ford excluded, the witnesses would likely have picked out Victor Belton.
It is extremely well recognized just how fraught with the potential for error eyewitness testimony can be, borne out by the fact that in the past months, bills have been proposed that attempt to closer monitor and minimize the chances of a wrongful identification being utilized to convict an innocent person. Sadly at the time of Tony Fords conviction such safeguards did not exist. Had they done so we contend that he would never have been convicted of this crime.
No physical evidence ties Tony Ford to this crime. His conviction was based solely on the eyewitness testimony described above eyewitness testimony that we suggest does not hold up to even minimal scrutiny. To execute a man based upon such testimony bears the very real risk of the execution of an innocent man. We contend that the execution of Tony Ford would be just that.
We feel deep and sincere sympathy with the Murillo family and believe the state owes them nothing less than to call to account the true perpetrators in this crime. To this end, we the undersigned, respectfully request you review this case, so that justice can be served in the case of Armando Murillo, and the death of an innocent man be prevented.
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