Another victim of the system..
Tony Egbuna Ford was the unwitting driver for two brothers who went to a house in El-Paso to collect a drug debt in 1991. The brothers forced their way in but didn’t find the man they were looking for. They demanded money from a woman at the address then shot each of the four family members, killing the son, seriously injuring the mother and wounding two young women.
There was no evidence to place Tony in the house that night. He was convicted and sentenced to death despite his testimony that he was not involved in the break-in or shooting. Victor Beltons’ brother, Van, was arrested because one of the daughters shot in the incident had gone to school with him and recognised him. Van told the police Tony was the other assailant even though he had remained outside in the car.
Tony was arrested and his photograph was put in a suggestive array that did not include images of Victor Belton. Both daughters identified Tony as the second person and as the shooter. Victor Belton and Tony looked remarkably similar, were nearly the same age, nearly the same height, and nearly the same weight. To make this identification even more questionable, it was disclosed that the real shooter wore a stocking-type cap down to his ears on the night of the shooting.
At trial, the defence asked for funds for an eyewitness identification expert to help them challenge the daughters’ identifications of Tony, but the court denied the request. The case went to trial without such an expert. Tony was convicted and sentenced to death.
During a federal court review of Tony’s case, he was provided funding for an eyewitness identification expert, Roy Malpass, from the University of Texas-El Paso. With that funding, Tony was able to show how an expert would have helped immensely in:
(1) explaining the great risk of erroneous identification in cross-racial crimes like this one.
(2) explaining that witness certainty in the accuracy of the identification bears no relationship to accuracy (especially where a gun was used and the glimpses of the assailant were brief, under great stress, and obscured by a cap worn by the assailant).
(3) conducting empirical studies that showed that Victor Belton and Tony Ford looked much more like each other than anyone else in the photo array, and finally that Tony looked much more like the described assailant than anyone else in the photo array presented to witnesses.
(4) explaining how one of the identifications was preordained by that witness seeing Tony’s photo in the newspaper (identified as a suspect) before she saw the photo array.
Tony, his family and supporters secured a Stay of Execution on 7th December 2005. A further Stay of execution was granted on 14th March 2006.
Tony’s wife Rachael told us “Tony’s stay of execution is both exciting and scary – as I’m sure you have read it is pending the DNA testing of the true perpetrators clothing (clothing he was wearing when arrested for obstructing the arrest of his brother) – which does have blood on it.
“It is exciting because this could truly exonerate my husband, but it is scary because as his attorney cautions me, this clothing has been held by the police for 14 years – at various times we have been told it was “lost”, it “didn’t exist” and that there was “no material which could be DNA tested.”