CHICAGO – A Chicago grandmother was sentenced Wednesday to life in prison in what a judge described as the "exceptionally brutal" death of her 8-year-old granddaughter.
Helen Ford was found guilty of first-degree murder in the 2013 torture and beating death of Gizzell Ford.
Cook County Circuit Judge Evelyn Clay, who convicted Ford in March, handed down the natural life sentence after hearing family members describe the 55-year-old as a mother figure unable to say "no" to family members in need.
"No, Helen Ford did know how to say 'no,'" said a scowling Clay. "She did know how to say 'no' to Gizzell. No water. No food. No sleep. No praise. She did not say 'yes' to the basics requirements of human care."
Prosecutors said the 275-pound (125-kilo) grandmother also tortured and beat the 70-pound (32-kilo) girl. Gizzell's father, Andre Ford, also was charged with murder but died in jail awaiting trial.
Ford took the witness stand during a five-hour sentencing hearing and described the routine of her days caring for her bed-ridden son, Gizzell and two other children. Ford said Gizzell would grow angry at her father, who had a chronic degenerative disease that robbed him of his mobility, and at her mother, who lost custody of the third-grader a few months before Gizzell died.
Clay cut Ford off as the woman began to talk about Gizzell "throwing herself around."
"Miss Ford, enough. Enough," Clay said.
"Your honor, it's the truth," Ford said, as sheriff's deputies reached to help her from the witness stand.
Prosecutors alleged Gizzell was dying of kidney failure even before she was strangled because her parents and grandmother denied her food and water.
At the time she found Ford guilty, Clay noted Gizzell's body "looked like it had been pulverized from head to toe ... Her treatment (of Gizzell) was evil."
An Illinois Department of Children and Family Services investigator visited the home a month before Gizzell's death. Prosecutors said bruises and wounds found on the girl's body pointed to her being brutalized for weeks.
A doctor also found a suspicious injury weeks before Gizzell died, but didn't report suspected abuse.
During Ford's trial, prosecutors cited the girl's journal entries before and after she moved in with the Fords.
"People say I'm smart, courageous and beautiful," the honor roll student wrote when at the time she was a "healthy, strong and vital" girl, prosecutors said. After she was taken to live with the Fords, her tone became more somber: "I hate this life. I really think that I'm a jerk."