Kevin Thomas Ford. Photo via Robeson County Sheriff’s Office

A North Carolina man was found guilty Wednesday of raping and murdering a 79-year-old woman in her Normal Heights home more than three decades ago.

Jurors deliberated for about five hours before convicting Kevin Thomas Ford, 63, of murder, and found true a special circumstance allegation of committing the killing in the commission of rape.

Ford, who was working as a driver for elderly medical patients in San Diego at the time of Grace Hayden’s May 20, 1997, murder, is scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 13 to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

The victim, whose body was found on the floor of her bedroom, was one of the patients Ford drove to and from medical checkups, according to Deputy District Attorney Valerie Summers, who said a receipt collected by investigators showed he drove her two days before her body was found.

The prosecutor told jurors in her closing argument that Ford strangled and smothered Hayden during the rape. Injuries to her face and the back of her head indicated a “horrible struggle,” Summers said.

“The final moments of this woman’s life, which should have been in peace, were violent, sexually violent, and just nothing but pure terror,” the prosecutor said.

Ford was initially connected to the crime by identification of a single fingerprint left on Hayden’s stovetop, which had two burners on when her body was found. According to trial testimony, the fingerprint did not yield results on a San Diego County database, but when submitted to a national database, a match was made to Ford, who had been arrested in 2015 on suspicion of making criminal threats.

Ford was also later connected to the murder scene via DNA collected from swabs of the victim, Summers said, and was arrested in 2018 in North Carolina.

The prosecutor said the defendant told investigators that he didn’t know Hayden, then testified at trial that he had lied because he didn’t want to get in trouble.

He also wrote a letter to his wife stating he thought he might be arrested someday, but “I didn’t know how good their evidence was,” according to Summers, who told the jury, “Well, now he knows, as do you.”

Ford testified that he had consensual sex with the victim, which Summers called a “ridiculous story,” particularly given Hayden’s mobility issues.

Defense attorney Courtney Cutter alleged the prosecution ignored the presence of a second man’s DNA on vaginal swabs of the victim. The identity of the second DNA contributor remains unknown.

The attorney also argued that Ford’s fingerprints were nowhere else to be found in Hayden’s home, not even on a knife or flashlight utilized by the killer, nor any of the items the perpetrator rifled through to steal, including Hayden’s purse and pill bottles.

— City News Service

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