Not quite an eye for an eye
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.
NEWTON COUNTY'S NEWSPAPER SINCE 1865
Charles Hill Morris
T. Pat Cavanaugh