Park ranger who apprehended Richard Ford at SPI testifies in murder trial

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Richard Ford looks towards his attorney before the start of his trial at the 206th state district court Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2024, in Edinburg. (Delcia Lopez | [email protected])

EDINBURG — The man who found Richard Ford on South Padre Island testified Wednesday about what exactly Ford was doing there after his ex-wife had been kidnapped and murdered earlier that day.

Ford, 44, is accused of kidnapping and murdering his ex-wife, Melissa Banda, 37, on Aug. 6, 2020 after he had allegedly stalked her in a white rental Dodge Journey in McAllen.

State prosecutors called David Vela of the Cameron County Park Ranger Division. He recalled seeing a white Dodge SUV on South Padre Island the evening of the same day Melissa was kidnapped.

Prosecutors showed pictures taken that evening of a white colored Dodge Journey and another of the driver of the vehicle, whom he identified as Ford.

However, Vela testified that when he first made contact with him Ford identified himself as Sergio Sanchez. After running the plates on the vehicle, Vela determined that the vehicle was wanted. Ford told him that he had warrants with the McAllen Police Department, according to Vela.

Ford was described as being compliant with no visible signs of intoxication. Vela also said that there were no signs of Melissa. A search of the vehicle conducted by another officer revealed Ford’s driver’s license, at which point Ford identified himself.

He was eventually placed under arrest and transported to the Carrizales-Rucker Detention Center in Olmito.

Prosecutors then called Edinburg police Officer Esmeralda Lopez. At the time of Ford’s arrest, she was a crime scene investigator with the McAllen Police Department.

She recalled driving to A-Pro Towing & Recovery on South Padre Island on Aug. 7, 2020, where the suspect vehicle had been transported following Ford’s arrest. Prosecutors showed dozens of pictures taken by Lopez during her investigation of the Dodge Journey.

Lopez said that she observed watermarks and clumps of sand throughout the vehicle, as well as “microscopic” red stains that she said could possibly be blood. Photos showed at least 10 possible blood stains on the right rear panel of the vehicle and on the right rear rim of the tire.

She also found a cap and a blue towel in the front passenger seat, a key for a Ford vehicle, and two box cutters in cup holders near the center console.

Richard Ford, who is accused of killing his ex-wife, is escorted by deputies to his trial at the 206th state district court Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2024, in Edinburg. (Delcia Lopez | [email protected])

Prosecutors then called Esther Navarro, who is the crew leader for the McAllen police evidence unit. She presented some items as evidence, including a pair of black high-heeled shoes and the cap seen in an earlier picture.

Elizabeth Talley — a forensic investigator with the FBI who specializes in forensic serology, the testing of items for blood or semen — was also called to testify. She tested 18 items, including swabs taken from the Dodge Journey, fingernail clippings from Melissa, and the blue towel found inside the vehicle.

She said that some of the swabs taken from the vehicle tested positive for blood and had “very strong support for Ms. Banda being a contributor for that DNA.” The towel did not reveal Banda’s DNA, but did have Ford’s DNA.

Overall, Talley said that four items matched Melissa’s DNA.

Earlier in the day, defense attorney Jaime Aleman objected to a witness who works in a leadership role at Allied Security Services, the security team who guards La Plaza Mall in McAllen.

Aleman argued that because the head of security, Ed Vela, wasn’t the one to hand the surveillance footage McAllen police had asked for during the investigation, he couldn’t testify regarding the videos.

Prosecutor Ana Liz Vargas’ rebuttal was that Vela was familiar with the security cameras used at the mall and could attest to the authenticity of the footage.

Regardless, state District Judge Rose Guerra Reyna sustained Aleman’s objection and Vela was dismissed from the trial.

Two McAllen police officers testified Wednesday morning as well. One was a computer forensics investigator who obtained footage of the Dodge Journey speeding away from Cindy Banda’s, Melissa’s sister’s home, and the other an officer working for the crime scene investigation division at the McAllen Police Department.

That officer took photos of the scene where Melissa was allegedly kidnapped as well as the sight where Ford was arrested.


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