Grandmother found guilty in beating death of 8-year-old

Evelyn Holmes Image
Thursday, March 2, 2017
The grandmother of a child found beaten to death was found guilty of first degree murder on Thursday.

CHICAGO -- The grandmother of a child found beaten to death was found guilty of first degree murder on Thursday.

A judge declared Helen Ford, 55, guilty in the July 2013 death of her granddaughter, 8-year-old Gizzell Ford. The judge called the murder "exceptionally brutal."

Gizzell's body was found covered with blunt force injuries and cuts. Officials said she had maggots in a head wound, bruises and scratches all over her body.

The emotional relatives of Gizzell had nothing to say as they were escorted from court just moments after a Cook County judge convicted the 8-year-old's grandmother of first degree murder in her death.

Ford showed little emotion as an outraged Judge Evelyn Clay found her guilty of the 2013 torture killing.

"This murder was torture. The child suffered a slow and agonizing death with injuries from head to toe," she said.

In closing arguments, prosecutors said the straight-A student was strangled and beaten, but was already dying of kidney failure because her grandmother and father refused to give her food or water or let her sleep.

"This is the type of murder that makes you lose faith in the human race," Assistant State's Attorney Ashley Romito, said.

In addition to cellphone video showing the girl's father and grandmother berating her, authorities shared a haunting journal entry written by Gizzell just days before her death.

"I hate this life because now I'm in super big trouble," she wrote.

But the defense painted a much different picture of Ford and called her an overwhelmed and overworked grandmother.

Her public defender asked the judge to find her client guilty of involuntary manslaughter and said while she may have abused and neglected the girl, she never intended to kill her.

The family of Ford refused to comment on the trial's outcome.

Her father, Andre Ford, was also charged but died in jail from a heart attack.

A Cook County judge had awarded temporary custody of Gizzell to her father, an unemployed felon, eight months before her death because he claimed her mother was homeless. Her mother tried to get her back.

Gizzell's mother has filed a civil lawsuit against the state and claiming a DCFS caseworker had visited the home where the girl been living with her father and grandmother and ignored obvious signs of abuse.

Ford could be sentenced to natural life in prison because of the exceptionally brutal nature of the murder.

Ford's mother and maternal grandfather sued the Department of Children and Family Services. They said the agency failed to report signs of trouble that led to her death even after a caseworker visited the "decrepit and garbage-strewn home" weeks before her body was found.