More accusations in inmate's death

February 15, 1994|By Bruce Reid | Bruce Reid,Sun Staff Writer

Deputy Attorney General Ralph S. Tyler was incorrectly identified in an article about a Detention Center death in Harford County in Tuesday's editions.

The Sun regrets the errors.

The administration of Harford County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann said yesterday that the Maryland attorney general's office is refusing to provide it with copies of DNA reports on William M. Ford, a Detention Center inmate who died in an isolation cell nearly two years ago.

Also, a lawyer for the Ford family said the attorney general has refused to provide him with copies of the reports and any other written documentation involving tests on bodily fluids found during an autopsy.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

A county grand jury concluded Feb. 4 that Mr. Ford strangled himself with a pillowcase in the county jail in March 1992 and that semen found in or near his rectum was his own, based on DNA tests conducted by the FBI.

The DNA in the blood of three jail guards was compared with the DNA in the semen collected during an autopsy. "We had been told unofficially throughout this thing that the DNA tests were inconclusive," said Ernest A. Crofoot, the Harford County attorney. "We were surprised to find that the grand jury report was worded so conclusively, given that fact."

"I will bet money that there is no report that clearly shows that all the semen was Ford's," said William F. Gately Jr., the Towson attorney who represents the Ford family.

In a letter last week to Deputy Attorney General Ralph S. Tyler III, Mr. Crofoot said, "I have come to understand that the attorney general's office is purging all of its files relative to the [Ford] investigation."

Mr. Crofoot said the county needs the DNA reports and a full explanation of the data because it expects to be sued by at least one former Detention Center official.

The county paid a $400,000 civil settlement to the Ford family in April 1993, determining that Detention Center personnel had not adequately protected Mr. Ford from himself or others. Mrs. Rehrmann said last week that the Detention Center had serious management problems at the time of Mr. Ford's death.

Carolyn H. Henneman, an assistant attorney general who handled the Ford case, said in a letter to the county last week that all the DNA reports were confidential and had been returned to the FBI "in accordance with standard practice."

County officials are preparing a request for the FBI. Agent Earl Pitts of the FBI's Washington office said he "couldn't speculate on whether the [the county's request] would be granted."

Agent Pitts said the FBI would decide whether to release the documents based on the provisions of the federal Privacy Act.

Investigators working on the case have said repeatedly that if Mr. Ford was killed, the motive had to involve sexual activity. Mr. Ford told his family the day he was found dead that he feared being sexually assaulted and killed.

The family has alleged for more than a year that Mr. Ford, a 28-year-old laborer from Wilmington, Del., was raped and killed by one or more guards. Mr. Ford was serving a 30-day sentence for drunken driving.

Dr. Frank J. Peretti, a former assistant state medical examiner who performed an autopsy on Mr. Ford, has said he found "abundant" amounts of semen in Mr. Ford's rectum.

Dr. Peretti, now an associate state medical examiner in Arkansas, said after the grand jury report that he still believes Mr. Ford was killed.

But the grand jury, after an eight-month investigation, said it "does not believe Mr. Ford was raped or sodomized." It concluded that the death was a suicide.

The grand jury said a private laboratory in Colorado was unable to conclude to whom the semen belonged.

Based on the FBI tests, the 23-member panel presented two "theories" to explain how Mr. Ford's semen got in or near his rectum to make it appear as if he had been sodomized.

One theory was that he masturbated, and the other was that Mr. Ford experienced a spontaneous ejaculation while strangling himself.

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