CHICAGO (STMW) — When a skeletal Andre Ford was wheeled into court last week, even prosecutors said the ailing man was too frail to beat the 8-year-old daughter he is accused of murdering.
But what Ford couldn’t do with his hands, he did with his mouth, allegedly mandating the sadistic punishments and vicious beatings that led up to Gizzell Ford’s strangulation, the Chicago Sun-Times reports.
When Ford wasn’t ordering the child to suck up her urine to atone for wetting herself, or be harnessed to his bed, he just watched his mother torture Gizzell in their Austin home, Assistant Cook County State’s Attorney Bridget O’Brien said.
Ford’s arrest isn’t unusual under Illinois’ accountability statute, legal experts said.
“It doesn’t matter if he didn’t pick up a belt and hit the child himself. If you hire a hit man, they [prosecutors] aren’t necessarily [just going] to go after the person who pulled the trigger,” explained Bruce Boyer, director of Civitas ChildLaw Clinic at Loyola University’s Law School.
Ford, 28, was hardly a bystander, according to prosecutors and the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, which just completed a report that indicated both Andre and Helen Ford abused and neglected Gizzell and two other children in their care.
But even if Andre Ford — who suffers from the chronic degenerative disease of scleroderma — just observed the family matriarch beat Gizzell and deprive her of food and water, he would still be as culpable as others who allow such atrocities to happen to children, authorities said.
“It doesn’t happen everyday but we do charge people on the theory of accountability,” said Sally Daly, a spokeswoman with the State’s Attorney’s Office.
Just last April, Angela Petrov, of Rogers Park, was charged with murder after her 5-month-old daughter died, succumbing to the injuries she suffered when the infant’s father allegedly suffocated her.
Petrov saw Rigoberto Rodriguez put his hands over the crying baby’s mouth repeatedly until her body went limp, but Petrov did “nothing” except sit in a chair and watch, prosecutors said at the couple’s bond hearing in the spring.
While numerous family members of murdered children have been put behind bars for their failure to intervene, in 2002 the Illinois Supreme Court reversed the murder conviction of Tabitha Pollock, who was sleeping in another room when her boyfriend killed her 3-year-old daughter.
Pollock’s lawyers argued she didn’t know her partner was beating the child and couldn’t anticipate the murder.
Similarly, in hopes of clearing his name, Andre Ford’s defense attorneys will probably maintain that he was unaware of the abuse, but that will be difficult to do if prosecutors can demonstrate that Gizzell was beaten over a period of time, Boyer said.
Gizzell was allegedly discovered by paramedics lying in her tattered underwear in her father’s blood splattered bedroom. She had maggots in a head wound and bruises, scratches, lacerations and punctures all over her body, prosecutors said last week.
Andre and Helen Ford were the only two adults living at the residence, in the 5200 block of South Adams, authorities said.
The gruesome accusations against Gizzell’s father may eventually be proven but one law professor warned that details given at bond hearings are many times an “exaggeration” of the evidence.
“Skepticism is justified in this stage,” said Jeffrey Urdangen, a law professor who directs Northwestern University’s Center for Criminal Defense.
Andre Ford was charged two months after his mother because investigators were trying to piece together how Gizzell ended up with her numerous injuries, Daly said.
Andre Ford’s case is unusual in that his skin-hardening immune disorder has evoked some doubt about whether he is capable of the evil he accused of, according to child welfare advocates.
“They were saying, ‘How is that possible? He’s bedridden,’” a source familiar with the case said.
But sickness is not enough of an excuse if prosecutors can prove that Andre Ford didn’t help Gizzell, Boyer said.
“You don’t have to physically wrestle the person who is swinging the club,” the law professor said.
“Pick up the phone, tell a neighbor.”
Andre Ford initially told authorities that Gizzell’s injuries were self-inflicted, but he later admitted he kept her from going to a summer camp to keep others from seeing her battered body, prosecutors said. He also allegedly told detectives he never called 911 because he was afraid he’d be blamed for his daughter’s wounds.
Andre Ford, who was ordered held without bond, has since been transferred to a local hospital for treatment.
Helen Ford, 52, is also awaiting trial in Cook County Jail
Gizzell’s mother, who sought to regain custody of the girl after she went to live with the Fords last year, could not be reached for comment, according to court records.
The two other children who were in the Fords’ home have been since placed in foster case, DCFS spokesman Dave Clarkin said.
(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2013. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)