Jury Votes Death for Killer Ford

Times Staff Writers

A San Bernardino County jury on Thursday called for the execution of Wayne Adam Ford, a long-haul trucker who confessed to killing four women, cutting up some of their bodies and dumping them in waterways across California.

Ford, 44, who turned himself in to a Humboldt County sheriff’s station in November 1998 with a severed breast in his jacket pocket, showed little emotion and stared straight ahead as the court clerk read the jury’s decision.

The brother of one of Ford’s victims, Lanett White of Fontana, said he had hoped Ford’s life would be spared so he would stew in prison for the rest of his life. “It would have been better to torture him than kill him off,” Bill White said in a telephone interview Thursday afternoon. “Then he would just have been in that little cell thinking about what he did.”


In June, the jury found Ford guilty of four counts of first-degree murder after prosecutors detailed how he had bound and strangled his victims during sex, and stored at least one woman’s body parts in his freezer.

Three jurors who spoke to reporters after the trial said most if not all of the members of their group believed Ford was manipulative and callous -- even eating a burrito and drinking coffee after one woman’s death -- and that he was lying when he said he didn’t know how the women had died because he had blacked out.

The jurors said that the photos of the murdered women, posted on the wall of the jury room, were so gruesome that many jurors were plagued with nightmares and had difficulty sleeping. Nearly all of the jurors intended to seek counseling, some members said afterward.

“It was horrible and horrendous -- it was the most horrendous thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” said Darlena Murray, 47, an English teacher from Highland.

Deputy Public Defender Joseph D. Canty Jr. said he was disappointed that the jury didn’t give more weight to Ford’s apparent repentance and the fact that his client had turned himself in. Canty said he expected that there would be a defense motion for a new trial.

Ford is scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 20.

Prosecutor J. David Mazurek praised the jury’s decision, saying it would bring closure to family members after eight long years. “If there ever was a defendant that deserved the death penalty, this is the one,” he said.

A recent state law targeting serial killers allowed the Arcata man to be prosecuted for all four slayings in a San Bernardino County court even though his victims were found in Humboldt, Kern, San Joaquin and San Bernardino counties.

Jurors deliberated for just over a week after hearing testimony from the parents of three of the slain women: Tina Renee Gibbs, 26, of Las Vegas; Lanett White, 25, of Fontana; and Patricia Ann Tamez, 29, of Hesperia. The fourth victim, known as Humboldt County Jane Doe, was too mutilated to be identified.

Most jurors favored the death penalty throughout the deliberations, those who talked to reporters said, but there was a struggle to find the required unanimous agreement. Early this week, they said, there was just one undecided juror, who was struggling with how heavily he should weigh Ford’s possible mental illness.

Ford’s public defenders had argued that he was a depressed man who simmered with anger toward his second wife. A former U.S. Marine and bus driver for disabled children in an Orange County school district, Ford blamed his aggression on being barred from visiting his young son, Max.

Ford was plagued with psychological problems, including borderline personality disorder, defense attorneys said, and had suffered problems after a car accident.

His attorney’s closed the three-month trial with this searing image: Ford, in a video recorded the night he confessed, struggling to perform simple tasks such as removing his combat boots and reciting his address.

“I didn’t want to hurt people,” he sobbed to detectives.

The night before he walked into the sheriff’s station, Ford drank heavily at a lodge in Trinidad, Calif., and then called his older brother, the lodge owner told The Times after Ford was arrested. Rodney Ford arrived in darkness and, in a motel room, listened as his brother rambled that “he had hurt some people and he wanted help and didn’t want to do it anymore.”

The next day, Rodney Ford guided his brother into the sheriff’s station, where later that night he would persuade Wayne Adam Ford to forgo a lawyer and confess his crimes.

From his pocket, Ford removed a Ziploc bag holding Tamez’s severed left breast.

Then, in a hushed voice, Ford spent an hour and eight minutes detailing the killings to Det. Juan Freeman, who asked Ford about the still-unidentified woman’s torso that a kayaker had found in a Humboldt County slough.

“I had to make her small so she would fit better,” Ford said. “I cut her head off.... I cut her breasts off, her arms, her legs. I tried to open things up.”

Ford admitted to killing three other women, all described as prostitutes or drifters, saying he had picked them up while driving his big-rig. He subsequently led investigators to his trailer next to the Mad River, where they found a woman’s thighs stored in his freezer.

“The defendant devoured these vulnerable young women to satisfy his sexually sadistic appetite,” Mazurek said during closing arguments, scattering their bodies “like trash.” Mazurek told the seven-woman, five-man jury that Ford “got off” on squeezing the life from his bound, defenseless victims.

Mazurek emphasized the testimony of a Sonoma County woman whom Ford beat, robbed and raped in 1998 to describe the killer’s sadistic proclivities. The 29-year-old woman said Ford had pulled up to the Monte Vista Motel in Santa Rosa and promised her $100.

During the next five to six hours, Ford knotted a striped brown tie around her neck, which he would pull tight as he had sex with her in the truck, she testified. When she would black out, Ford would revive her, telling her to “shut up or I’ll kill you.”

Afterward, Ford helped her get dressed, and then hogtied her and dumped her on a hillside, where she loosened the nylon rope and necktie and ran for help.