Jury can hear GPS evidence used to capture Melissa Banda’s alleged killer

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EDINBURG — A judge on Friday dismissed two motions to suppress evidence for the upcoming trial of the McAllen man accused of kidnapping and murdering his ex-wife in 2020.

State District Judge Rose Guerra Reyna dismissed two motions to suppress GPS evidence regarding the whereabouts of 44-year-old Richard Ford Jr. after he allegedly kidnapped and murdered his ex-wife, 37-year-old Melissa Banda, on Aug. 6, 2020.

Ford’s defense attorney, Jaime Aleman, argued that the historical GPS and license plate number obtained by authorities of the rental vehicle Ford was using at the time of the alleged crime violated his rights as Ford didn’t give consent to those searches.

State prosecutor Hope Palacios stated that the seizure of that information was required due to “exigent circumstances,” which was echoed by their witness Detective John Adame, of the McAllen Police Department, Friday morning.

Richard Ford appears for a hearing at the Hidalgo County Courthouse on Friday, Feb. 9, 2024. (Joel Martinez | [email protected])

Exigent circumstances justify a warrantless search or seizure when rendering aid or assistance to people whom the officers reasonably believe are in need of assistance.

Adame had been on Banda’s case as she had filed for a restraining order against Ford and reported to police death threats he had been making against her.

At the time of the alleged kidnapping, Adame responded to the scene and was shown surveillance footage of the attack and testified that the footage showed Banda “struggling frantically.”

When asked what his thoughts were at the time, Adame responded with, “She’s in immediate danger.”

Richard Ford appears for a hearing at the Hidalgo County Courthouse on Friday, Feb. 9, 2024. (Joel Martinez | [email protected])

Adame was able to conclude that Ford was driving a white Dodge Journey from that surveillance footage and later obtained the license plate number from the surveillance system owned by the city of McAllen known as Milestone, which has cameras set up in high traffic areas around the city.

Adame also testified that the Milestone system revealed Ford had been following Banda that day before allegedly kidnapping her from her sister’s home.

That license plate number revealed that the Journey belonged to the Avis Car Rental company, which led Adame to request the GPS information belonging to the Dodge vehicle.

This is how authorities were able to find Ford near or at Beach Access No. 5 on South Padre Island leading to his arrest.

Richard Ford appears for a hearing at the Hidalgo County Courthouse on Friday, Feb. 9, 2024. (Joel Martinez | [email protected])

Avis initially gave authorities the current location of their vehicle, but later provided the historical GPS data of the vehicle that revealed Ford had spent about 10 minutes at a specific location on his way to SPI.

This is how authorities were able to find Banda’s lifeless body in rural Donna, specifically east of FM 493 and Mile 14 1/2 North, days later.

Reyna dismissed both motions to suppress Aleman had filed.

Ford is charged with capital murder, assault, violation of a protective order and stalking.

His trial is scheduled to start later this month.