Parents of Killer's Victim Testify

Times Staff Writer

Mary Ellen Sharp, one of the first witnesses called in the sentencing hearing of serial killer Wayne Adam Ford, on Wednesday told a San Bernardino County jury of the recurring nightmare she's had since her daughter's body was found in an aqueduct.

She sees Ford's long, black big rig driving down the highway as he tosses her daughter's clothes out the window, and then she sees her daughter's face.

Even today, Sharp testified, she hopes there will be a knock on her door and she'll find her estranged daughter on the other side. "I still do," Sharp said.

Sharp's daughter, Tina Renee Gibbs, 26, was one of four women Ford picked up and brutally murdered as he traveled across California in 1997 and 1998.

Ford was convicted in June of four counts of first-degree murder, and prosecutor J. David Mazurek on Wednesday told the jury the murders were so gruesome that Ford deserved a death sentence.

The women Ford murdered -- Gibbs of Las Vegas, Patricia Ann Tamez, 29, of Hesperia, Lanett Deyon White, 25, of Fontana and a hitchhiker whose body was so mutilated that she is known only as Humboldt County Jane Doe -- were described during the trial as prostitutes or drifters, but Mazurek urged jurors not to let that cloud their judgment.

Consider how important these young women were to their loved ones, he said.

"The defendant knows what he did," Mazurek said. "He also knows what he deserves.... I am going to ask you to impose the greater punishment [of the death penalty].

"That will be justice, finally, in this case."

Ford's attorney deferred an opening statement in Wednesday's hearing and, because of a gag order, declined to comment afterward.

Ford stared at the table as he listened to Gibbs' parents choke back sobs Wednesday as they described the sunny young woman he barely knew.

Sharp and Gibbs' stepfather recounted how the teenager who once loved family camping trips and accompanied her mother on visits to nursing home patients, drifted into drug addiction when she was 18, after meeting a boyfriend her parents didn't approve of.

Sharp said she had spent hours on the phone with her daughter trying to persuade her to come home and seek counseling. After a while, Gibbs stopped returning her calls, Sharp said.

Gibbs' stepfather, Ronald D. Sharp, said the next news came from a California coroner after Gibbs' body was found in an aqueduct in Kern County.

"When my wife got home from work, I had to tell her that her daughter had been murdered," Sharp testified. "She fell apart. I've been trying to hold up ever since."

Mary Ellen Sharp said that since Gibbs' death, she has been unable to hold a job or even work in the garden at their Oklahoma home, which she filled with flowers in Gibbs' favorite colors -- purple, yellow and white.

The mother of Lanett White, who had four children, also will be taking the stand.

Debra White of Ontario said she last saw her daughter just before her birthday in 1998. Lanett White had made her a cake with white icing and covered it with rainbow Skittles.

Lanett White had promised she would return days later for her actual birthday.

Instead, Lanett White vanished from a Fontana truck stop. Her body was found more than a week later in an irrigation canal in San Joaquin County.

Ford told investigators that Lanett White was working as a prostitute, but Debra White, when interviewed outside the courtroom, said her daughter was just starting a career selling home interior products and had walked up the street to the store the night she disappeared to get milk for her 9-month-old baby.

"She was my daughter, my friend, my world," said Debra White, 53, who now cares for one of Lanett White's children.

"I planned to live the rest of my life with her and then he comes in and takes her, like he has some right."

Her father, Bill White, wants no mercy spared for Ford.

"I want to see him dead," he said. "He's already dead to me."

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