After listening to three days of testimony this week, a Clarke County Superior Court jury late Thursday took less then two hours to find 42-year-old Gary Gaylord Ford guilty on all seven counts of an indictment accusing him of crimes committed during a spree that started when he escaped from a state correctional facility in February 2008.
Western Judicial Circuit Chief Judge Lawton Stephens sentenced Ford to life without parole, plus an additional 40 years in prison without parole.
The prosecutor in the case, Assistant District Attorney James Chafin, called the evidence against Ford overwhelming.
“I think the jury clearly saw all of the evidence, not only the scientific evidence and the police work that was done to collect and preserve the evidence, but what was really overwhelming was the eyewitnesses and the victims who came forward to face the defendant and clearly tell what happened to them,” Chafin said.
Ford’s crime spree began Feb. 6, 2008, when he walked away from the Augusta Transitional Center just months away from parole on a robbery conviction in Athens-Clarke County.
That same day, he hitched a ride with a woman in Wilkes County. When the woman told Ford she had to let him out because she wasn’t going to Athens, Ford slammed the woman’s head into the steering wheel, causing her to lose control and crash, Athens-Clarke police said.
Ford punched out a man who stopped to see what was wrong, then stole the man’s pickup truck and drove to Athens, where police said he robbed the Corner Market on Hull Road.
Two days later, Ford assaulted a 21-year-old University of Georgia student who was out for a stroll on the Greenway with her dog and roommate. The victim’s roommate, who was walking ahead on the Greenway, passed Ford walking the opposite direction then heard her friend scream, the prosecutor said.
“(Ford) didn’t just choke her, he didn’t just punch her, he didn’t just drag her,” Chafin told jurors at the trial’s start on Tuesday. “At one point while she was being choked, (the victim) passed out.”
Chafin then went on to tell the jury how Ford violated her with his hand.
When the victim’s roommate ran for help, she came upon two women bicycling.
Those women saw Ford attacking the student in the woods, and one of them shouted, “What ... are you doing?” Chafin said.
Ford “wanted to know what these other women were going to do about it,” Chafin said, and when they responded that they wanted to help the victim, he charged the witnesses, knocked one from her bicycle and began to choke her, Chafin said. That woman managed to get away and Ford stole her bicycle.
Ford tried to ride after the sexual assault victim as she ran, but the victim escaped by using a cut-through to a business off Commerce Road, where she sought help inside, Chafin said.
Athens-Clarke police arrested Ford soon after the attack. He was still riding the stolen bicycle.
During the trial, the sexual assault victim and the other woman he attacked looked directly at Ford as they told jurors what he had done to them.
When the guilty verdict was announced Thursday, it was “a day where a person can start to get some closure,” Chafin said.