‘No hesitation’: Gruesome autopsy testimony begins Richard Ford’s murder trial

Only have a minute? Listen instead
Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...
Richard Ford is escorted by deputies to the 206th state district court Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2024, in Edinburg. (Delcia Lopez | [email protected])

EDINBURG — State prosecutors didn’t waste any time Tuesday morning as they presented jurors with autopsy photos on the first day of trial against Richard Ford, the 44-year-old McAllen man accused of kidnapping and killing his ex-wife, Melissa Banda, in August 2020.

Following opening arguments, prosecutors Hope Palacios and Ana Liz Vargas called upon forensic pathologist Dr. Norma Farley as their first witness to discuss the wound that she says is what killed Melissa, who was 37 at the time of her death.

“You can see the depth of the wound,” Farley said as the photos were projected onto a TV display.

Farley described it as a “very sharp incision wound” that had been done with “no hesitation” and added that one has to typically conduct an autopsy to see that part of the neck.

The photos showed the exposed airway and arteries as the object used to cut Melissa had gone through the esophagus and reached her vertebrae. It reached a little past the ear.

When asked about other injuries, Farley pointed to Melissa’s wrists which Farley described as what looked like gunshot wounds, but she was certain they weren’t.

Farley spoke of a pellet found inside Melissa’s neck and suggested those wounds on the wrists could’ve been caused by a pellet gun. But she had her doubts as she didn’t find pellets on or under Melissa’s skin, suggesting that insects were another possibility.

As for the pellet found inside the neck, Farley couldn’t explain it.

Following Farley were a few people who helped McAllen police in their investigation of Melissa’s kidnapping and murder, which included one neighbor, an owner of a drive-thru, Ford’s mother, Maricela Garcia, and Melissa’s sister, Cindy Banda.

Cindy Banda sister of Melissa Banda wipes tears from her eyes as she testifies in the trial of Richard Ford at the 206th state district court Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2024, in Edinburg. (Delcia Lopez | [email protected])

These witnesses provided police with surveillance footage, of which the most compelling was from Cindy’s home.

Cindy testified about an event that occurred months prior to her sister’s death where Ford was arrested for assaulting Melissa.

After Melissa missed a lunch date with her sister, Cindy said she decided to go to Melissa’s home to see if she was OK because she wasn’t replying to any of her messages.

When she arrived, she found Ford pacing back and forth inside their garage with their pet dog outside as well, which is uncommon as their dog was an indoor dog.

Ford jumped into his silver Ford F-150 and revved his engine as a signal to Cindy to move her vehicle, and when she did he drove away.

Inside the garage, Cindy found her sister squatting behind a shelf and shaking. She told her sister that Ford was arguing with her about a financial issue following the filing of their divorce when he grabbed her by her hair, slammed her to a wall and placed his hand over her mouth and nose, suffocating her.

Melissa Banda

Police were called soon after and Ford’s mother, Maricela, took Melissa in, but she later moved in with Cindy at her home after their father, Fidel Banda, helped install surveillance cameras at the residence.

While living with her sister, Cindy said she began to witness Ford’s behavior toward Melissa and persistently called her, left messages and would stalk his ex-wife.

Cindy testified that Ford’s voice was distorted when he would threaten her sister, saying it was like the movie “Scream.”

When asked what Ford would tell Melissa, Cindy said, “I’m going to kill you.”

On Aug. 6, 2020, the daughter of the nanny who worked for Cindy arrived at her home to fill in for her mom who was on a trip.

Yulissa Garcia, who was 21-years-old at the time, arrived a little before 8 a.m. and saw Melissa drive away.

At around 3 p.m., Yulissa was making food for Cindy’s youngest daughter when she heard a scream and quickly ran to the kids in the living room only to find that none of them made the noise.

As she returned to the kitchen, her eyes caught the TV monitor displaying the surveillance cameras and saw a white van drive away. She noticed objects thrown on the driveway.

Richard Ford stares at a screen where photos were shown to the jury of Melissa Banda during his trial at the 206th state district court Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2024, in Edinburg. (Delcia Lopez | [email protected])

Yulissa stepped out into the garage and saw Melissa’s car parked, but her driver side door was open and several of her belongings were on the ground.

Melissa’s heels were on the driveway.

Yulissa quickly called her mother who told her to call 911 immediately.

With the help of Cindy’s eldest son, Yulissa was able to play back the video the surveillance footage caught the moment she heard a scream.

Yulissa saw what she described as someone “very aggressively” taking Melissa who was attempting to fight back as she kicked, causing the heels to fly off her feet.

She added that Cindy’s son looked shocked as he recognized Melissa’s ex-husband in the footage.

The trial is scheduled to continue Wednesday morning.