NORWICH – In a packed Chenango County Courthouse with heightened security, Broome County Court Judge Joseph F. Cawley sat at the bench just long enough to pronounce George Ford Jr. guilty of murdering 12-year-old Shyanne Somers.
Ford, 44, of Piscataway, N.J., was found guilty of second degree murder in the July 2007 slaying of Somers by running her over with his truck on Will Warner Road in the Town of Otselic.
Cawley entered a silent courtroom with over 80 people in attendance and warned that there was to be “no audible reaction” after he announced his verdict.
“After due deliberation of evidence presented, I find that the people have sustained their burden of proof. I find Mr. Ford guilty of murder in the second degree. At this point, gentlemen, I’ll schedule sentencing for May 18th, and that will be at 9 in the morning. We are in recess,” he said. After that, the judge promptly rose from his chair and left the courtroom as Ford was whisked away by security personnel.
Despite the judge’s orders, several gasps could be heard from the side of the courtroom where Shyanne Somers’ family and friends sat. After court was adjourned, tears of joy streamed from many of their faces as District Attorney Joseph A. McBride hugged various family members.
“It just took so long for it to start. Nineteen months and then the two weeks of the trial just dragged by, but yesterday when I was sitting there I almost couldn’t believe we were going to get a verdict,” said Shyanne’s mother, Kathy Somers.
“I was prepared for them to reduce the charges and not convict him of murder, and when he said he was guilty of murder, I couldn’t help it, I gasped,” she said.
Somers thanked McBride and the entire Chenango County Sheriff’s Office, singling out Detective Sgt. Richard M. Cobb, who testified in the trial and interviewed Ford the day of his arrest. Somers said Cobb was the one who had to break the news to her during the investigation and complimented his conduct in dealing with the grieving family.
“They went above and beyond. They get a lot of flak sometimes, but they put my daughter’s murderer behind bars. When you have them on your side, you’re really glad they’re on your side,” said Kathy.
Somers said her family was thinking of moving back to Massachusetts because she has been unable to find work in the area.
“Regardless of what the verdict is, it doesn’t bring her back. I still miss her right to pieces,” said Kathy.
The mother said the most shocking part of the trial came for her when she learned her daughter didn’t die immediately.
“We were always told she had died right away and to learn ... to hear him talk about ... that it may have taken up to four minutes before she died, I can’t describe it. I wanted to just kill him right there,” she said.
Somers said she intended on speaking directly to Ford when he appears in court for sentencing May 18. Family members will be allowed to make statements before Cawley passes final sentence. Ford is facing 15 to 25 years to life in prison.
Ford’s wife Cindy, who remains a close friend of the Somers family, sat on the defense side of the aisle for the verdict and closed her eyes and wept following the announcement.
Cindy had placed a GPS device in Ford’s truck because she thought he was having an affair. The device proved to be a pivotal piece of evidence that may have sealed her husband’s fate, explained McBride.
On the courthouse steps, McBride commended Cindy Ford. “She had the courage and strength to come forward and tell us about the GPS,” he said, adding that “without Cindy Ford, without the GPS, all we’d know is he wasn’t telling the truth about how that little girl died.”
Cindy told police about the device the day after Ford’s arrest and first showed sheriff’s investigators how to use the tracking system.
Although no direct evidence of sexual abuse was found in the investigation, McBride said it was still an issue. “They can test for signs of rape and sexual abuse, but unfortunately there’s no test to show attempted sexual abuse or attempted rape,” he said.
“Who knows what happened? He’d already broken the law by taking her up there. He silenced the only witness who could testify against him,” added the prosecutor.
Ford’s defense attorney Randel Scharf of Cooperstown also joined reporters on the steps of the courthouse after the verdict and said his client would appeal the case – but it would be difficult.
“It was kind of a surprise,” said Scharf. “In a bench trial, when a judge makes the decision, it limits your options on appeal,” he said.
“George feels terrible. He feels bad for the family and for himself,” said Scharf of his client.
The attorney said Ford was “shocked” and “shaking” after hearing the verdict.
Scharf said that an investigation by the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles and a civil suit, including an insurance company investigation, both ruled the incident as an accident.
“We knew that in front of a jury it would’ve taken 10 seconds to get a verdict back,” he said explaining that crimes against children were very difficult to present to a jury. “The odds are stacked against you from you right away,” he said.
Ford claimed the incident was an accident. The prosecution said Ford murdered Somers in an effort to silence her over an unknown incident that happened in the hours before her death, alluding to a possible sexual confrontation. Ford picked up his neighbor’s 12-year-old daughter at 11:30 p.m. July 7, 2007 so she could baby-sit for him for the first time ever.
After arriving at his home, his wife decided she didn’t need a babysitter and so Ford left to take Shyanne home. Instead, a GPS in Ford’s truck showed his vehicle driving around area back roads for a while before ending up behind an abandoned seasonal residence about a half-mile from the place where Somers was killed – and it remained there for nearly three hours.
During that time, the prosecution says that the 12-year-old victim escaped from Ford and fled down Will Warner Road. Investigators said she was pursued by Ford in his pick-up truck and that he deliberately ran her over at around 3:03 a.m.
Tuesday, during Ford’s testimony on cross-examination by McBride, Ford admitted the spent time in prison in 1993 over a drug offense in the state of Arizona. McBride said Ford had vowed never to return to prison again and that it may have motivated the murder.
“Did you ever say you were afraid to go back to prison?” asked McBride
“I only ever said I’d never put myself in that position,” responded Ford.
“Can you tell the court how they treat child molesters in prison?”
“What do they do to them?”
“Many things,” said Ford, as his attorney objected to the line of questioning.
Ford was remanded to the Chenango County Correctional Facility without bail until his sentencing May 18.