Not quite an eye for an eye

The Covington News - - Front page -

When I first heard the name Melbert Ray Ford, it meant very lit­tle to me. But I think that once you’ve watched a man die, you are cursed to re­mem­ber his name for­ever. Af­ter learn­ing of his crimes and watch­ing his ob­vi­ous lack of re­morse un­til the bit­ter end, re­mem­ber­ing Melbert Ford is in­deed a curse that I will have to carry.

There are things I learned be­fore his ex­e­cu­tion that have never been printed. Like how the Chap­man fam­ily owned the store where their daugh­ter and Martha Chap­man Matich were vi­ciously mur­dered and how they were forced to clean up their baby’s blood from the bath­room floor where he chased and cor­nered her like an an­i­mal be­fore he shot her. She knew him. She prob­a­bly called him by name as she begged for her life, but that didn’t mat­ter to him.

The fam­ily also had to clean up a trailer where Martha and Melbert lived — the same trailer where he pre­vi­ously had tor­tured and burned her. She gave him a place to live, she gave him her love, her trust and her faith and he threw it back at her. Then when she de­cided she’d had enough, he shot her too. Then he went and ate pizza. He killed two peo­ple, stole their lives away, then had a pizza de­liv­ered to a ho­tel room when the blood of his vic­tims’ wasn’t yet dry on his hands.

That’s what I thought about Wed­nes­day evening when I made my way to the prison in Jack­son to wit­ness my very first ex­e­cu­tion — about that lit­tle girl hud­dled next to a toi­let beg­ging for her life, of her sit­ting on a bucket in a bath­room bleed­ing and con­vuls­ing. I won’t deny that I was ner­vous, but I wasn’t sad­dened by the fact that Melbert Ford was go­ing to die.

I had noth­ing to tell me what the ex­pe­ri­ence would re­ally be like. I had only seen ex­e­cu­tions on tele­vi­sion and had a sneak­ing sus­pi­cion that things would be dras­ti­cally dif­fer­ent. The de­pres­sion and des­per­a­tion was no dif­fer­ent from what you sense on tele­vi­sion. It’s not a happy place to be, it’s not a cheer­ful place, and it shouldn’t be. You re­al­ize the in­ten­sity of what you’re ex­pe­ri­enc­ing when guards check un­der the cars of prison staff with mir­rors and men armed with as­sault ri­fles are at ev­ery corner.

We were driven to the ex­e­cu­tion cham­ber and Melbert Ford was brought in with a six-guard es­cort. Once he was strapped down, the guards were nar­rowed down to two. He was strapped down from his an­kles to the tip of his fin­gers but he didn’t seem in­clined to put up a fight. I kept look­ing for a tear, for his eyes to well up at the enor­mity of the sit­u­a­tion, but I waited in vain. The only emo­tion I saw was a wince when the first nee­dle went into his arm. I’ll be hon­est and tell you that I wanted more.

I saw him move his lips in ac­knowl­edg­ment of his friends, who had the au­dac­ity to wave and give him a thumbs up at one point, like they were greet­ing each other across a bar in­stead of through the thick glass of an ex­e­cu­tion cham­ber. While Lisa’s mother cried, they smiled.

Things got un­der way around 7:17 p.m. His eyes flut­tered shut, his breath­ing slowed, be­came jerky, slowed again and then stopped. It was over in 10 min­utes. He just went to sleep. He didn’t run in fear; he didn’t beg for mercy; he just went to sleep.

For those who ar­gue that lethal in­jec­tion is cruel and un­usual, maybe they are talk­ing about how it must feel to the fam­ily mem­bers of the vic­tims. Be­cause know­ing how their loved ones died and see­ing him go so eas­ily must be one of the cru­elest things they have to face.

I had the priv­i­lege of speak­ing with Cindy Chap­man-Grif­feth (the mother of Lisa) and Paul Chap­man (the brother of Martha) a cou­ple of days be­fore the ex­e­cu­tion, and they both told me the same thing. They both wanted desperately to have Melbert Ford fi­nally ad­mit his guilt and to apol­o­gize for killing Martha and Lisa. They did not get it. His last words were about him, thank­ing whom he wanted, mak­ing the peo­ple he loved feel bet­ter about the sit­u­a­tion, be­ing self­ish un­til the very end.

I have a sis­ter, and I am a mother and I hope with ev­ery fiber of my be­ing that I never have to un­der­stand what the fam­i­lies of the vic­tims I speak with are feel­ing. Some­times I feel sym­pa­thy for them and oc­ca­sion­ally I feel anger on their be­half and Wed­nes­day I felt both. I shed tears with them, I felt robbed along­side them.

I know that as a re­porter I am sup­posed to be un­bi­ased and have no opin­ion pub­licly, but that is not the case here. Lisa lived fewer years then Melbert Ford spent in prison on death row; she wasn’t al­lowed to spend days with her fam­ily be­fore she died or have some­one she loved to lock eyes with be­fore she took her last breath. Martha didn’t get to request a last meal, nor was she given the op­tion of a prayer on her be­half be­fore he killed her.

I’m not a re­li­gious per­son but I do know that the Bi­ble says an eye for an eye, and if that is in­deed the case, then Melbert Ford got off easy. Groups that op­pose the death penalty are fond of say­ing that the state shouldn’t kill in their name, but I’m OK with it. The world is a much bet­ter place with­out peo­ple like Melbert Ford in it.


Charles Hill Mor­ris

T. Pat Ca­vanaugh

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