ELKTON — A 22-year-old man who stabbed his father to death during a fight at the patriarch’s residence near Port Deposit last summer received a 10-year prison term Wednesday, after pleading guilty to manslaughter and two lesser charges as part of a binding plea deal.
Addressing the judge moments before sentencing, the defendant, Zachary Dylan Michael Ford, expressed remorse for fatally stabbing his father, Ralph Ford, 47, on June 27 during their battle at the victim’s Brenda Street mobile home.
“Everyone thinks it’s like I’m a monster, (but) it wasn’t intended. If I could take my life and give it to him, I would,” Ford commented, while standing at the defense table beside his assistant public defender, Jason Ricke.
As he spoke, at least two women seated in the pews behind Ford cried aloud. Ricke had indicated that Ford’s supporters, including his fiance, mother, sister, and brother, were seated in that section of the courtroom.
“I love everyone (who is) here for me,” Ford told the judge, before concluding with, “I’m sorry. He was not just my Dad, he was my best friend. I miss my Dad.”
Before imposing the agreed-upon sentence, Cecil County Circuit Court Judge William W. Davis Jr. remarked from the bench, “It is an unfortunate event.”
The judge also emphasized that Ford, who is battling a drug addiction, should not let his criminal convictions be the cause of a “downward spiral.”
Davis imposed a maximum 10-year sentence on Ford for his manslaughter conviction, in accordance with the binding plea agreement reached by Assistant State’s Attorney Nathaniel Bowen and Ricke.
Also reflecting the specifications of the binding plea deal, Davis imposed two maximum five-year sentences on Ford – making them consecutive — for reckless endangerment and then suspended them.
Because manslaughter is classified as a violent crime, Ford, under state law, must serve five years of his sentence before he would be eligible for his first parole hearing. The judge gave Ford credit for 195 days that he had served in the Cecil County Detention Center since his arrest in late June.
Davis ordered Ford to serve five years of supervised probation, after completing his 10-year term in a Maryland Department of Corrections prison. Should Ford violated probation, he could be sentenced up to 10 years in prison, representing the time suspended from his 20 years in sentences.
Ford stood charged with first-degree murder and second-degree murder, which carry maximum penalties of life and 40 years in prison respectively, but the state opted not to pursue those counts.
“This case is a manslaughter case, not a murder case,” Bowen told the judge Wednesday, giving some reasons prosecutors decided not to pursue the two most serious charges.
The determination was made after Bowen and Cecil County State’s Attorney James Dellmyer thoroughly reviewed the information and evidence gathered by Cecil County Sheriff’s Office detectives and discussed the case.
Bowen told Davis that Ford fatally stabbed his father during a “mutual fray” and that, had the case gone to trial, the state likely would not have been able to secure murder convictions.
“A mutual fray preceded the death,” Bowen noted, before opining that Ford “had an imperfect self-defense” argument based on the circumstances surrounding the incident, which was witnessed by an unspecified number of people, including at least one family member.
Bowen reported that the elder Ford was intoxicated at the time of the fight in which he was stabbed to death.
The prosecutor also reported that there was a “history of violence” between Ford and his father, as well as “physical abuse” when Ford was younger.
In addition, Bowen told the judge that Ford has a “history of substance abuse,” which also could have served as mitigating factor.
CCSO investigators rushed to the patriarch’s residence in the unit block of Lagoon Drive at approximately 10 p.m. on June 27, after receiving an emergency call regarding a stabbing that had occurred there, police reported at the time.
They found the elder Ford, who had suffered a stab wound to his torso, lying in the front yard, where paramedics pronounced him dead shortly after arriving there, according to police.
Investigators arrested his son at the scene, shortly after he had implicated himself in the fatal stabbing, police said.
At the time, police added, Ford was living in the unit block of Brenda Street, which, located in the same mobile home park, is a short distance from his father’s residence.
“One of the people who called 911 was the suspect. During the conversation with the 911 call taker, the suspect indicated he had a knife in his hand, had pulled his knife out and admitted to stabbing the victim,” according to Cecil County District Court records.
Witnesses told investigators that Ford and his father had been arguing, which led to them fighting, police said. At least one witness saw Ford hit his father in the torso, causing it to bled immediately, and then saw him holding a knife, police added.
“Nobody wanted this to happen and expected it to happen,” Ricke told the judge on Wednesday, reporting that people who know Ford were “shocked” by the news.
Ricke also indicated that the fatal stabbing occurred in the heat of the moment amid a mutual fight.
“In a moment, everything kind of changed,” Ricke remarked.