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Sunday, January 24, 2016

Sandy Ford: The Murder-Suicide Pact That Killed Five

     In 2009, Chris and Mandy Hayes lived with their four children, ages seven, six, three, and two, in Sylvania Township, Ohio, a community of 20,000 ten miles northwest of Toledo not far from the Michigan state line. Because their 6-year-old son had "behavioral problems" and required extra attention, Mandy Hayes' parents, Sandy and Randy Ford, agreed to temporarily care for and house their other three children. The grandparents resided in west Toledo.

     In the fall of 2012, Chris and Mandy Hayes decided it was time to reunite the family under the same roof. Their troubled son had received a lot of help and was now on medication. This decision, however, did not sit well with Sandy Ford, the 56-year-old grandmother who did not want her three grandchildren leaving her home. Mother and daughter quarreled repeatedly over whether it was safe to return 10-year-old Paige, 6-year-old Logan, and 5-year-old Madalyn to their parents' home in Sylvania Township.

     On November 6, 2012, at 5:50 in the evening, officers with the Toledo Police Department responded to a domestic disturbance call at the Ford residence. Mandy Hayes and her mother had gotten into a fight over the children that led to the grandmother being taken to the hospital for injuries to her shoulder and eye. According to the police report, Sandy Ford told officers that the "family crisis is continuing while the children are at the mother's home in Sylvania Township."

     The Hayes children were scheduled to move back into their parents' home on November 7, 2012, but when it was time for the switch, the police were summoned when another fight broke out between the children's mother and grandmother. The next day, under police escort, the three children were transferred back to the family home in Sylvania Township. This did not, however, end the domestic feud.

     On November 8, the day she lost physical custody of her three grandchildren, Sandy Ford and her 32-year-old live-in son Andy, began preparing for mass murder and suicide. Early on Monday morning, November 12, 2012, Sandy and her adult son boarded up the doors and windows to the Ford's unattached, double garage. Later that morning, at twenty after eight, Mandy Hayes delivered her three children to Whiteford Elementary. Sandy Ford, who had been waiting for them in the school lobby, intercepted the children and escorted them out of the building and into her car. Sandy transported her grandchildren from Sylvlania Township to her home in west Toledo.

     The grandmother drove her blue Honda Civic into the garage next to the family pickup. She (or Andy) unplugged the overhead garage door operating system, and threw the manual locking latch. The children, carrying snacks and coloring books, and accompanied by two dogs and a cat, climbed into the back seat of the car. Sandy, or her son, ran a hose from the pickup truck's exhaust into the Honda via a back seat window. After someone started the pickup, Andy and his mother joined the children and the pets in the back seat of the Honda.

     That morning, at ten o'clock, officials from the Whiteford Elementary School in Sylvania Township called Mandy Hayes to report that her children were not in class. At the mother's request, a police officer drove to the Ford residence in west Toledo. He knocked on the door, and when no one answered, he left the scene. (The officer must not have heard the truck running in the unattached garage.) The police returned to the Ford home several times that morning and early afternoon, but did not enter the dwelling.

     Randy Ford, the 60-year-old grandfather, spoke to a police officer stationed outside the house when he arrived home from work at 2:30 that afternoon. Mr. Ford entered the dwelling, and inside found "suspicious" notes from his wife and the grandchildren that suggested murder-suicide.

     At 3:30 that afternoon, a member of the fire department broke into the garage with a sledgehammer. The emergency responder discovered Sandy Ford, Andy Ford, and the three Hayes children. They had died from carbon monoxide poisoning. The pets were dead as well.

     On November 15, Mandy Hayes told a local television correspondent that "I don't know what happened. They [her mother and brother] weren't in their right minds. That's all I can say. Something snapped...I just can't explain it, really." To the same TV reporter, the children's father said, "I think she [Sandy Ford] really did not want those kids to ever come home, is what the deal was there. She felt she was their mother." 

Monday, January 11, 2016

Who Killed the Barajas Children and Murdered Jose Banda?

     On the night of December 7, 2012, the pickup truck carrying the Barajas family--David and Cindy and their four children--ran out of gas on a dark, narrow country road near Alvin, Texas thirty miles southeast of Houston. Because they were 100 yards or so from their home, Mr. Barajas asked his boys, David who was 12, and 11-year-old Caleb, to push the truck the rest of the way. At eleven o'clock, when they were within 50 yards of their house, another vehicle plowed into the back of the pickup. The crash killed David instantly, and seriously injured his brother who died later that night in the hospital. Mr. Barajas suffered minor injuries. His wife Cindy and their two daughters were not hurt in the accident.

     Deputies with the Brazoria County Sheriff's Office, when they looked inside the vehicle that slammed into the Barajas pickup, found 20-year-old Jose Banda. Having been shot once in the head, Banda was breathing but unresponsive. (I don't know if he had been shot from the passenger's or driver's side of the car.) The officers found him slumped over in the front passenger's seat. He died in the hospital a few hours later. Deputies searched both vehicles and the area surround the accident without finding a gun. There were indications that Mr. Banda had been drinking, a fact that has not yet been confirmed through an analysis of his blood.

     While the county coroner ruled Jose Banda's death a homicide, the person who shot him is a mystery. If David Barajas or his wife had shot Banda for killing their two boys, where was the gun? Could someone besides Banda have been behind the wheel of vehicle that crashed into the pickup? Could that person have shot Banda and fled the scene with the murder weapon before being spotted by members of the Barajas family? This would explain why the deputies did not find the murder weapon.

     In speaking to a reporter, Brazoria sheriff's deputy Dominick Sanders said, "We are not sure if Banda was shot before or after the wreck." (If shot before the wreck, the murder might have caused the accident. If this is what happened, was the shooter inside the car or along the road?)

     Deputy Sander did not say if David Barajas and his wife had been subjected to gunshot residue tests to determine if they had recently discharged a firearm. Moreover, the sheriff's office did not indicate if Banda had been shot at close range, or if a shell-casing has been recovered from the scene. (If the area around Banda's entrance bullet wound featured gunpowder staining, he had been shot from a distance no farther than eighteen inches. The more powder staining, the closer the range.)

     A week after the fatal accident and criminal homicide, the deceased boys' parents, in hiding following Facebook threats, had not been questioned by the police. (This was not good investigative technique.) According to the boys' uncle, Gabriel Barajas, his brother remembered the accident in a "blur."

    Tests revealed that Jose Banda had twice the legal limit of alcohol in his blood at the time of his death. Forensic gunshot residue tests showed that Mr. Barajas had not fired a gun that night.

     On February 10, 2013, notwithstanding a lack of evidence in the case, a Brazoria County grand jury indicted David Barajas, Jr. for murder of Jose Banda. If found guilty, Barajas faced up to life in prison. Upon his arrest Mr. Barajas maintained his innocence.

     On August 27, 2014, after a one-week trial, the jury found David Barajas not guilty. Without a murder weapon, an eyewitness or a confession, the prosecutor simply did not prove his case beyond a reasonable doubt. Moreover, the community supported and had sympathy for the defendant from the start.
     

Friday, January 8, 2016

Score One For The Devil: The Arkansas Church Murder Case

     Every once in awhile you hear of a homicide that reminds you that regardless of who you are, where you are, or what you are doing, you can be murdered. It's a sobering thought, but it's true. There are people among us, ordinary-looking people, pushing carts at Walmart, driving around in SUVs, watching their kids play soccer, sitting in movie theaters, and eating in restaurants, that for little or no reason, will take your life. As Charles Lindbergh said after the kidnapping and murder of his son in 1932, life is like war.

     On Sunday morning, June 6, 2010, Patrick Bourassa, a 34-year-old drifter with a shaved head, an ordinary face, and a tattoo featuring three skulls and a flaming dragon, was driving in eastern Arkansas on Highway 64. Slightly tall, thin, and clean-cut, Bourassa, if placed in a group of men his age, wouldn't stand out. Originally from Danielson, Connecticut, he had recently worked in a Dotham, Alabama barbecue restaurant, and had tended bar in Phoenix, Arizona and Wichita, Kansas.

     At eight-thirty that Sunday morning, as Bourassa drove west toward the small town of Hamlin, Arkansas, 80-year-old Lillian Wilson was alone inside the Central Methodist Church. She had gone there to pick-up donation baskets that had been used to collect money for victims of a recent storm. As Bourassa approached the town, his car broke down. Leaving the vehicle along the highway, he walked to the church, and forced his way into the building.

     About an  hour after Bourassa broke into the Methodist Church, he pulled into a nearby Citgo station driving Lillian Wilson's car. A few miles down the highway from the gas station, he used Wilson's credit card to buy food at a Sonic convenience store.

     As Patrick Bourassa drove west through Arkansas, the pastor of the Central Methodist Church discovered Lillian Wilson's body lying on the floor between two pews. She had been bludgeoned to death with a heavy brass cross.

     On Thursday of that week, police arrested Bourassa in Bremerton, Washington on Kitsap Peninsula west of Seattle. He still possessed Lillian Wilson's car, and admitted to the arresting officers that he had murdered the old woman in the Arkansas church.

     On June 16, 2010, after waiving extradition, Bourassa and his attorney stood before a judge in Wynne, Arkansas. Advised that he had been charged with capital murder and several lesser charges, Bourassa pleaded not guilty. He awaited trial without bail in the Cross County Jail.

     On Monday, April 2, 2012, in Wynne, Arkansas, the jury selection phase of Bourassa's capital murder trial got underway. A week later, the prosecutor showed the jury a video-tape of the defendant re-enacting how he had picked the brass cross off the communion table and used it to beat Lillian Wilson to death. In response to why he had killed an old woman he didn't know, Bourassa said it was because he became enraged when she told him that God loved him and would forgive him.

     Bourassa's attorneys did not dispute the fact their client had killed Lillian Wilson. It was their mission to convince the jury to find Bourassa guilty of a lesser homicide charge in order to save him from execution. To get that result, the defense put two expert witnesses on the stand. A psychologist and a forensic psychiatrist testified that Bourassa was genetically predisposed to violence. These mental health practitioners told the jury that the defendant had suffered childhood abuse, and was bipolar. Moreover, he had a personality disorder. (No kidding.) Because these experts were not saying that Bourassa was not guilty by virtue of legal insanity, the relevance of this testimony was not clear. Surely they were not trying to make the jurors feel sorry for this man.

     On April 13, 2012, after four hours of deliberation, the jury found Bourassa guilty of capital murder as well of the the lesser charges. The defendant, at the reading of the verdict, showed no emotion. Having found Patrick Bourassa guilty, the jury had to either sentence him to life in prison or death. The next day, after deliberating two hours, the jury sentenced Bourassa to life without parole. The jurors had spared this killer's life because they didn't think Lillian Wilson, the woman he had murdered, would approve of the death sentence. 

Saturday, January 2, 2016

The Lawrence Capener Knife Attack

     On Sunday morning, April 28, 2013, all hell broke loose inside St. Jude Thaddeus Catholic Church in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The mass had just ended and the choir had begun its final hymn when a 24-year-old man who had been nervous acting and fidgety throughout the service vaulted over several pews toward the front of the church. Lawrence Capener, the crazed churchgoer, possessed a knife which he used to stab the choir director several times.

     Gerald Madrid, the church flutist, came to Adam Alvarez's rescue by attempting to put Lawrence Capener into a bear hug. During the scuffle, Capener, before collapsing to the church floor under the weight of other churchgoers who mobbed him, stabbed the flutist five times in the back. Daren De Aquero, an off-duty Albuquerque police officer, put the subdued assailant into handcuffs.

     Greg Aragon, an off-duty Albuquerque Fire Department Lieutenant, treated the choir director, the man who came to his aid, and a female member of the choir who had been slashed by Capener's knife. None of the victims incurred life-threatening injuries.

     As Capener was led out of the church, an elderly parishioner spoke to him. She said, "God bless you, forgive yourself."

     "You don't know about the Masons," the attacker replied.

     Later that Sunday, a local prosecutor charged Lawrence Capener with three counts of aggravated battery. A magistrate set his bail at $250,000.

     After detectives advised Capener of his Miranda rights, the subject informed his interrogators that he was "99 percent sure" that the choir director was a Mason involved in a conspiracy "that is far more reaching than I could or would believe." He apologized for stabbing the flutist and the woman in the choir.

     While Capener does not belong to the 3,000-member church, his mother was an active parishioner. He had recently graduated from a community college, and had started a new job. According to people who know him, Capener struggled with mental illness.

     In February 2014, Carpener's attorney petitioned the court to lower his client's bail so he could live at home under the supervision of a GPS device. The judge, after hearing from Carpener's victims, denied the request. The trial was scheduled for September 2014.

     On September 29, 2014, pursuant to a plea bargain deal, a judge sentenced Lawrence Capener to five years in prison.