NORWICH, New York – A New Jersey man was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison Thursday for running over a 12-year-old baby sitter after a GPS system secretly installed by his suspicious wife helped convict him.
Prosecutors said George Ford Jr. intentionally ran over Shyanne Somers with his pickup truck to keep her from talking about the hours they spent alone behind an abandoned upstate New York farmhouse in July 2007. Ford has maintained that her death was an accident.
Data from a GPS recorder planted by his suspicious wife showed Ford lied to investigators about his actions, but they were never able to prove he engaged in inappropriate activity with the girl.
"I've made a lot of mistakes. I can't answer for everything. But this was not on purpose. It was an accident," said Ford, who addressed the court for more than 10 minutes without notes.
Ford, 44, a contractor from Piscataway, N.J., was found guilty in February of second-degree murder by Judge Joseph Cawley Jr. during a non-jury trial.
Ford testified during his trial that he accidentally hit the girl after showing her his horses, boarded in a pasture near his summer home 45 miles north of Binghamton.
Ford's route on the night Somers was killed was recorded on a GPS system his estranged wife put in his truck because she suspected he was having affairs. He was supposed to be taking the girl home.
Using the GPS data, prosecutors showed that Ford never went to the pasture but instead spent more than three hours behind a farmhouse a half-mile from where the girl was killed. Investigators testified that Somers got away from Ford, who deliberately ran her down after 3 a.m. on July 8.
"What's most troubling is the fear and terror that that young girl must have felt in the last moments of her life," Cawley said.
"I hope that fear and terror is the first thing you think about when you wake up every morning and the last thing you think about when you close your eyes each night," the judge said.
James Somers told Cawley that Friday was his daughter's 14th birthday.
"This man took something from us ... her smiles, her laughter, our happiness as a family," Somers said.
As Somers spoke, Ford sat with his palms pressed against his eyes. When he put his hands down, tears ran down his cheeks.
Chenango County District Attorney Joseph McBride asked for the maximum penalty for Ford, saying he had a long criminal history and had lied to authorities throughout the investigation and trial.
"He took that child and did some horrific action, which we will never know because he silenced Shyanne," McBride said, his voice breaking as he spoke.
McBride said Ford ran down Shyanne while he was high on cocaine. Ford likely killed the girl so he wouldn't be sent back to prison, McBride said. Ford spent 4 1/2 years in state prison in Arizona in the early 1990s on a drug-related conviction.
Ford accused McBride and police of lying.
"She was never touched inappropriately and to let the family think that for two years," Ford said, angrily pointing and shaking his finger at McBride, who strongly objected to the judge.
Defense attorney Randel Scharf said he planned to appeal the verdict.