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Ex-College Star Awaits Sentencing

May 7, 1998

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) _ Mariet Ford was in an all-out run when he tossed the football blindly over his shoulder to a trailing teammate as part of Cal’s fabled last-second kickoff return that beat Stanford in 1982.

The last of five backward passes, Ford’s no-look lateral was caught by Kevin Moen, who weaved through the Stanford band and bowled over a trombone player en route to the end zone in what remains one of college football’s most riveting finishes.

``Here’s a guy who had the brass ring so to speak,″ prosecutor Mark Curry said. ``For a brief moment, he was in the national spotlight.″

Then, on Jan. 16, 1997, the charred bodies of Ford’s pregnant wife and 3-year-old son were discovered in the family’s home. Soon afterward, Ford became a suspect. He was arrested six months later and convicted last month in their bludgeon killings.

Ford is 37 years old now and could spend the rest of his life in prison. He is in Sacramento County Jail awaiting sentencing, expected this month.

``If you look at his life as a whole, you see he went from somebody who almost made it to a guy that had two kids, didn’t love his wife and was financially stressed,″ Curry said. ``They were in debt up to their eyeballs.″

Ford, who took the stand in his own defense and maintained his innocence, has been jailed since April 22, when his bail was rescinded immediately after his conviction following a monthlong trial.

A Superior Court jury found him guilty of three counts of second-degree murder and an arson charge _ the bodies were set on fire _ in the slayings of Teresita Ford, 31, Mariet ``Mo Mo″ Ford Jr., 3, and the unborn fetus. Mrs. Ford was eight months into her pregnancy when she was killed along with Mo Mo in the couple’s home.

``He’s of no use to society. We would really like to see him rot in jail, to be honest with you,″ said Thomas Alves, Teresita Ford’s brother-in-law.

Ford faces up to 53 years to life in prison at his sentencing hearing.

Roger Theder, his former coach at Cal, was at a loss to explain what happened.

``Mariet just handled himself so well, disciplined, organized, a leader. I never once had a problem with Mariet Ford,″ said Theder, who recruited Ford from Diablo Valley Junior College. ``Everything he did, he did it the way you expect it to be done. That’s why this thing just makes you sick.″

Ford’s lawyer, William Gagen, said he’s distressed by the verdict.

``Emotionally, I have not accepted he could have done it and I probably never will,″ Gagen said. ``And whether it was friends or family, there was one kind of universal reaction, and that was absolute, total disbelief Mariet Ford was capable of this.″

During the trial, contrasting descriptions emerged of Ford. Defense witnesses testified that Ford, who worked for a telecommunications company, was a good provider, loved his family and had a reputation for nonviolence.

Prosecution witnesses portrayed Ford as under financial duress, suggested he didn’t want the second child and felt trapped in an unhappy marriage.

Ford denied the killings during his testimony and declared his life revolved around his family. But he admitted to two affairs during the 4 1/2-year marriage.

What set off the violence in the Ford home that morning remains unknown. Authorities say Mo Mo and his mother died from blunt force trauma, apparently from kicks to their heads. Gasoline was then poured over them and the bodies burned.

Ford’s brother, Orrin, found the bodies after Mariet Ford called him from work and asked him to check on his family, saying he was concerned because they weren’t answering the phone.

Mariet Ford returned home, and though his brother testified he was upset and cried, his otherwise stoic demeanor was viewed suspiciously by police.

A number of elements in the case pointed to Ford: inconsistencies in statements to police, a scratch on his face that appeared to be caused by a fingernail, an inability to explain his whereabouts for about 30-35 minutes the morning of the murders and evidence at the crime scene indicating Teresita and Mo Mo died in a rage killing.

``Three times during an interview, he almost inadvertently referred to it as, `the accident,‴ Curry said. ``As I told the jury, I’m not a psychologist but if somebody broke into my house and murdered my family and I was innocent, why would I ever think of that person’s actions as an accident?″

Joe Kapp, who was on the sidelines as Cal’s coach when Ford helped engineer ``The Play″ against Stanford, said he can’t reconcile the Ford he knew with someone capable of murder.

``There will always be doubt in my mind that he did this,″ Kapp said. ``But we are in a world that seems to be more violent, more hostile. He was a top student, a top athlete and it’s real difficult to imagine the way this tragedy has unfolded. It’s difficult to deal with. I only hope we can all learn something, however this ends.″

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