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Accused Killer of 4 Links Any Misdeeds to Brain Injury

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Wayne Adam Ford, the long-haul trucker accused of killing four women across the state, insisted in an interview last week that he is “not guilty of murder” but might deserve to spend the rest of his life in a psychiatric hospital.

In his first interview since he walked into a Eureka, Calif., sheriff’s station last November--carrying a woman’s severed breast in a plastic bag--Ford linked his misdeeds to a brain injury he said he suffered in a highway accident about 15 years ago.

The 38-year-old Ford repeatedly declined to discuss specifics of the charges against him during the interview at the West Valley Detention Center.

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He hinted broadly, however, that he believes he is entitled to a defense of insanity or diminished capacity for allegedly killing four women he picked up as he drove the state in his big rig in 1997 and 1998. His trial is expected to begin in about a year.

“I’m not saying I should be set free. Maybe I should spend the rest of my life in a hospital,” Ford said, speaking calmly and evenly over a prison intercom as he sat behind a thick sheet of plexiglass in the jail’s visiting area. “This should have been treated medically from the very beginning.”

Ford stands accused of picking up four prostitutes or drifters, usually while on his trucking runs, and killing the women after sex. Their bodies were dumped in waterways in Humboldt, Kern and San Bernardino counties. Authorities had no suspects until Ford appeared at the Eureka sheriff’s station after a night of soul-searching with his brother. He went on to confess to the slayings, authorities have said.

Under a new state law, prosecutors hope to try Ford in San Bernardino for all four killings, rather than conduct separate prosecutions in each county. They intend to seek the death penalty.

The onetime Marine and father of a young son previously said he never intended to harm the women, according to investigators who interviewed him. They said he called the killings “accidents” that occurred during “rough sex” and told authorities he attempted to revive his victims after he realized they were not breathing.

Ford is being held in his own cell in a special protective unit of the San Bernardino County jail facility. One of his guards described him as cooperative and quiet.

The 6-foot, 2-inch defendant appears thinner than he did during court appearances in Eureka last year. His long hair is slicked back and only a stubble of his once-scraggly beard remains.

In the interview last week, Ford chose his words carefully, not admitting guilt or claiming complete innocence. He spoke more definitively when he blamed others--from the Marine Corps to law enforcement--for treating him unfairly.

Ford would not concede that he admitted responsibility for the slayings, as authorities have reported. He said that, if he did make such an admission, it was because he did not properly understand all the elements of the crime. Once educated about the legal factors constituting murder, Ford said he realized, “I did not commit four murders.”

Ford conceded, however, that he does not expect to be absolved of wrongdoing.

He traced the roots of his misdeeds to an incident that he said occurred while he was in the Marines about 15 years ago. Ford said he had been a “very good Marine,” making sergeant at the age of 20.

But in the mid-1980s, he said he was hit by a car when he stopped to help a disabled motorist on Interstate 5 in Irvine. Ford said he suffered a severe head injury and was in a coma for nine days.

Ford’s first wife was with him at the time of the alleged accident and gave a similar account to a defense investigator.

In an effort to demonstrate that he was not concocting the story, Ford abruptly stopped the interview and, using his tongue, pushed out his two front teeth. Ford quickly replaced the dental bridge, then pointed to a thin white line on his upper lip, saying: “And I have a scar here, too.”

Ford said psychotherapists hired by the defense to examine him in Humboldt County after he turned himself in concluded that a brain injury had left him with a psychological disability--which Ford, again, declined to describe.

“Of course, in a case like mine, that kind of information could be significant,” he said.

Ford’s San Bernardino County attorney, Deputy Public Defender Joe Canty, said it would be inappropriate to comment on most of Ford’s statements and that he has instructed his client not to speak to the news media again.

San Bernardino County Deputy Dist. Atty. David Whitney, who will prosecute Ford, expressed skepticism about brain injury claims, saying they have become de rigueur in death penalty cases. He said he does not yet have enough information to know whether such a claim is legitimate in Ford’s case.

Michael Rustigan, a Cal State San Francisco criminologist who is an expert on serial murderers, said Ford’s attempt to deflect responsibility is typical of mass killers.

“Before, he was apparently saying that his wife leaving him triggered his rage; it was a psychological explanation,” Rustigan said. “And now he is focusing on brain damage. It looks like they are flailing for a defense.”

Regardless of the legal import of a brain injury, Ford questioned the Marine Corps’ handling of his case. He said Marine superiors found him “dangerous to equipment and personnel,” yet discharged him from the service and released him into the general population.

Ford’s military records show he was demoted to corporal at one point, though the cause of the demotion is not specified. Records also indicate he was admitted to the Naval Hospital in San Diego in September 1984 and honorably discharged from the service in January 1985.

Marine Corps officials did not respond to inquiries for more details of Ford’s service and medical records.

Ford went on to claim that Humboldt County authorities had “broken the law” last November during his initial interrogation. He contended that they coerced him into making incriminating statements.

Ford said he arrived at the sheriff’s station in Eureka early that November morning, expecting that he would not come out alive. He said he thought authorities would kill him.

Ford said he soon realized that fear was unwarranted, but he nonetheless felt pressured by investigators. He said he was held in a cold, bare cell for three days. He wore only a jail jumpsuit, without underwear or socks, ostensibly because he was suicidal. “But I wasn’t suicidal. I told them that,” Ford said.

Detectives also offered cigarettes and coffee to entice him to talk, Ford said. He said he would not provide other details of the questioning, which he described as psychological “torture.”

A videotape of his interrogation will show that he requested to speak with an attorney “at least nine times” but was not allowed to consult one, Ford claimed. Even when a public defender came to the Humboldt sheriff’s station, he was denied access to Ford, the defendant said.

“I can say there is considerable evidence that, from virtually the moment he walked in the door, he was asking for an attorney,” defense attorney Canty said in his lone comment about Ford’s interview with The Times.

San Bernardino County prosecutor Whitney gave a different account of Ford’s request for an attorney. He said that when the distraught trucker first asked for an attorney, sheriff’s investigators stopped their interrogation. But Ford’s brother, who had accompanied him to the station, soon persuaded the suspect to resume his interview, Whitney said.

“That’s what happened as best I recall the facts,” the prosecutor said.

Humboldt County authorities did not return several phone calls seeking comment.

Ford said that only his attorneys have visited him. He said he is prepared for whatever outcome awaits him, whether it is a psychiatric hospital, “40 years in prison,” or a trip to the gas chamber.

“It’s in God’s hands,” he said.


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