Man convicted of killing two executed

Photo by Tori Boone

Photo by Tori Boone

JACKSON -- Melbert Ray Ford died by lethal injection at 7:27 p.m. Wednesday, 23 years after he was convicted in the murders of his ex-girlfriend, Martha Chapman Matich, and her 11-year-old niece, Lisa Chapman.

Cindy Griffeth, mother of the slain 11-year-old, said the execution, at which she was a witness, brought closure to her but also disappointment.

"I was hoping that (Ford) would at least have prayer and apologize," Griffeth said. "But I thought, deep down in my heart, he wasn't going to do it. It shows his true character."

When asked how she felt about the execution, she replied, "It was too easy for him."

Ford's sentence was carried out at Jackson Diagnostic and Classification Prison near Jackson, where he has been on death row since his conviction in October 1986. He was 49.

As death penalty opponents staged a quiet vigil outside the prison in protest of the state's power to carry out executions, family members of the victims and the convicted killer were assembled in a small room inside the prison where they watched through a glass window as the lethal injection was administered. The intravenous mixture of sodium pentothal, pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride was injected starting at 7:17 p.m.; Ford appeared to doze, his breathing became deeper and then slowed, and he was pronounced dead at 7:27 p.m.

Also witnessing the execution were law enforcement officials from Newton County, including District Attorney Ken Wynne and Sheriff Ezell Brown, who was an investigator on the case at the time of the murders.

Ford made a brief statement prior to the execution, saying, "I wish to thank all my family and friends and loved ones ..." before his voice became inaudible. He declined an offer for a final prayer. He had also earlier declined the offer of a sedative.

Ford was convicted on two counts of murder, armed robbery, burglary and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony. He was sentenced to death on each of the murder convictions.

In what has been described in court records as a revenge killing against Matich, Ford had told a friend that he "was going to blow her ... brains out," and devised a plan to rob the store where she worked, saying he intended to kidnap Matich, take her into the woods, make her beg and then shoot her in the forehead.

Ford enlisted the help of a friend, Roger Turner, who drove him to Chapman's Grocery on Ga. Highway 81 on the night of March 6, 1986.

"At 10:20 p.m., the store's burglar alarm sounded. A Newton County sheriff's deputy arrived at 10:27 p.m. Ms. Matich was lying dead behind the counter, shot three times. Lisa Chapman was discovered in the bathroom, shot in the head but still alive, sitting on a bucket, bleeding from the head and having convulsions. She could answer no questions. She died later," court records state.

Ford's accomplice cooperated with the prosecution and pleaded guilty to armed robbery. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Don Kelly, a retired attorney from Oxford, served on the jury that convicted Ford. Kelly said he had no idea at the time that it would take more than 20 years for the death sentence to be carried out.

"I wouldn't have thought it would be (nearly) 25 years," Kelly said Tuesday. "I knew it was subject to a lot of appeals. I didn't realize the appeals would take this long."

Ford appealed his conviction on claims that the jury failed to find any aggravating circumstances that would have justified a death sentence, that his counsel was ineffective, that the prosecutor committed misconduct, and that evidence about his co-defendant's drug use the night of the murders was suppressed. His appeals were denied at the state and federal levels. A petition to appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court was denied in January.

Ford's last-minute appeals to the Georgia Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court were denied Wednesday.

Alcovy Circuit Chief Superior Court Judge John Ott, who prosecuted Ford's case in 1986, said he remembered it much like other capital cases he tried during his career as district attorney.

"Every death penalty case I ever tried or was involved with as a judge has impressed me with how idiotic the defendants were and how their actions created such tremendous damage for no good reason," Ott said Wednesday afternoon. "How senseless they were and the arrogance and the idiocy of the defendants who, even after they were confronted with their acts, couldn't admit what they'd done."

Ott also recalled the tragedy of the murders for the Chapman family.

"The impact of his actions was so devastating that that family could never recover," Ott said. "Who could recover from something like that?"

News editor Barbara Knowles and the Associated Press contributed to this report.