January of 2015, Melinda's trial began. Melinda was
26 years old as her trial began and was facing life
in prison without parole, she had plead not guilty.
A jury of six men, eight women and two alternates
would hear the eveidence and then decide if Melinda
was innocent or guilty and then decide her fate
depending on their verdict.
The trial began on January 27, 2015 with Prosecutor
Zeke Fortenberry giving statements about three
different stories Melinda had given in reference to
what had happened to Grace. Melinda first said that
an intruder broken into the apartment, then she said
she had amnesia and was not able to remember what
happened, then she said that while they were doing a
craft project, Grace must have put the duct tape on
her own mouth. One thing was clear to Detectives and
that was that Melinda had not once asked how Grace
was doing in the days after and she only referred to
her as "some little girl" or "some girl that I
babysat", while the investigation was happening, she
never called her by her name even though it was said
that Grace called Melinda mom:
Police caught her in lie after lie after lie"
Robbie McClung was the Defense Attorney in the case
and he said that things were not as they seemed, not
as "cookie cutter" as the Prosecutors wanted the
court room to believe:
want you to connect the dots for a pretty
picture. I may open
eyes to some things they don't want to deal
First on the stand was Diane Williams who had
received a call from Mitch who said he had been on
the phone with Melinda when he heard the phone hit
the floor and then he heard screaming. Testimony
about Police arriving and Mitch letting them into
the home then took place:
I realized the door was locked, I realized the
bad guy was still in the
apartment. I saw a female lying on the living
room floor, two bar stools knocked
down on the right hand side and a red chair
turned over on the side where the
females feet were. The female was lying on the
rug in front of the couch right
next to an overturned coffee table, face down.
Her pants and underwear were
pulled around her ankles"
Officer David Waddell
A search revealed that no one was in the home who
didn't belong there. David Waddell said that when he
rolled Melinda over and took the duct tape off of
her mouth, he eyes were fluttering as though she was
trying to keep them closed and that was when she
yelled to get him out of there saying that "he" was
a white man wearing a black jacket and boots.
Officer Camille Bowie said that she tried to talk to
Melinda who was moaning and writhing on the ground,
she asked her to sit up and tell them what happened:
took a big breath and kind of gently fell to the
floor as if she had
Her eyes were kind of fluttering like she was
trying to keep them
forcefully. There's no movement in the eyes and
body when someone
if you really faint, you're not going to gently
place yourself. I felt
it wasn't genuine"
Melinda said that she had been on the way to get her
engagement ring sized and she remembered she didn't
have the ring with her so she went home and an
intruder was already there:
"She said he kept hitting her, but I didn't see
any visible injury. There was
no real emotion on her face, I couldn't see any
Officer Camille Bowie
Officer Antonio Arrendondo found Grace in her bed,
facedown, wearing only a shirt, she was not
responsive and when he rolled her over, he found
duct tape on her mouth and she had no pulse:
picked up Grace and put her in my arms, pulled
the duct tape off and laid
it on the bed. Her eyelids were turning color
and her lips were blue and purple.
She did not have a pulse. I held her close to my
face to see if I could feel any
breath and started doing chest compressions"
It was took late, Grace was already dead. Grace was
taken to The Medical Center Of Plano, arriving at
about 2:07 p.m. after remaining unresponsive during
the eight minute ambulance ride. Dr. Richard Honaker
said that Grace had been unresponsive, pale, not
breathing and had dilate pupils and as a catheter
was being inserted, it was noticed that she had
bruising and blood in her vaginal area, Grace was
transported to Children's Medical Center for sexual
assault evidence collection:
believed Grace had been sexually assaulted"
A CAT scan showed swelling in her brain and a V
shaped abrasion was seen on her back, the jury saw
the injuries to her vaginal area and were told that
she was in critical condition when she was
on discharged she was a very critical patient.
We had certainly improved the
we had gotten her heart beating and she seemed
to have more cerebral
but she was still extremely critical"
Mitch took the stand to tell speak about his
relationship with Emily Reeves Ward, Grace's mother.
They had dated for seven years starting in 2001,
while they were in high school. Mitch joined the
Army after he graduated and went to Iraq in 2005,
they married in 2009 just before he was deployed a
second time. Mitch testified that their marriage was
in trouble and Emily was having trouble with alcohol
and prescription medication. The couple divorced and
then when she found out she was pregnant, they got
back together for a short time. Grace was born on
February 24, 2011 and Mitch was given full custody
In September of 2012, Mitch had met Melinda at the
place where they both worked and they began to date,
moving in together in January of 2013. Melinda quit
her job and was the full time care giver for Grace,
Mitch proposed to her in December of 2013. Mitch
said that on January 8, he was trying to put
Melinda's phone on silence when he found racy
pictures and videos that Melinda had sent to another
man and the next day, he told her the relationship
I was getting read for work, I let her know I
found stuff on her phone.
wasn't a big argument or anything, I said it
wasn't going to work and called
the engagement. She was kind of unemotional,
like it wasn't really a big
There wasn't a fight. I provided everything for
her. I told her she had a
to move out. She could keep the engagement ring
and sell it and keep
car to drive around and look for jobs. She
didn't cry, she didn't appear angry"
Mitch left work around 11:45 a.m. and started
looking for nanny for Grace and tried to call
Melinda, she didn't answer:
was worried about Grace, honestly. Melinda
normally doesn't not
or text back"
Melinda finally called back around 1:30 p.m. saying
she had just gotten home and that's when he heard
the phone drop. Mitch saw Grace at the hospital:
looked horrible. She was in a neck brace and
hooked up to a bunch of
She was unconscious"
Mitch went to visit Melinda and then went back to
the hospital, sleeping in his truck in the parking
lot until three days later, Grace was taken off of
life support and died. Mitch said that after that,
he started drinking, a lot. A few days later, Mitch
met with Melinda who said she didn't remember him
and that she had amnesia. Mitch said he had left
Grace with Melinda that day so that her routine
would be the same:
what hurt me most about the breatkup, it's not
just me, it affects
Mitch kept in contact with Melinda in an attempt to
get answers about what happened, he even wanted to
wear a wire at one point. When he visited her in the
hospital, Melinda said she felt like she had lost
Detective Cathy Stamm had interviewed Melinda and
those tapes were played in court and then a woman's
health Nurse Practitioner testified that she had
done a sexual assault assessment on Melinda:
than verbalizing, I saw nothing to indicate
sexual assault. The
didn't seem emotional, was pretty quiet and
Practitioner - Deborah Davis
It was noted that while there were no physical signs
of sexual assault, that didn't mean it had not
Detective Beth Spillman testified that while a
search was done, zip ties were found underneath the
couch and in Grace's room, duct tape and scissors
had also been found. Melinda's phone was found and
pictures of her in lingerie, a bikini and videos
were found in which she was doing a strip tease. A
text sent from Melinda to Mitch at about 11:55 a.m.
that day said: "I love you so much" to which Mitch
responded: "So when do you want to move out".
A conversation took place in which they discussed
nanny's for Grace and then some calls and texts went
unanswered before Melinda finally called him back.
Detective Bill Washington said that computers
searches had been done for duct tape, kill,
Benadryl, suffocate and staging. Of course the
Defense said those searches could have been done by
anyone with access to the computers they were found
on. A Dollar Tree was able to confirm that Melinda
had been in the store at 12:56 p.m. that day and she
bought duct tape, nylon cable ties, kitchen shears
and cotton swabs, video was shown to back up what
the store Manager had said.
On the third day of the trial, January 29, Melinda's
voice could be heard on tape saying that she freaked
out when she found Grace unconscious in her bed with
duct tape on her mouth. Melinda said that the items
she bought at the craft store were for a craft
project she planned to do with Grace. Melinda said
that when she started the vacuum, Grace must have
been afraid, ran to her room and put duct tape over
her own mouth, not hearing her after that, Melinda
went to check on her and found her unconscious:
know I did the wrong thing, I could have helped
her. She was lying there,
put tape on her mouth. I think she got scared. I
thought she was sleeping"
Melinda said she got scared about what Mitch was
going to think so she staged the apartment to look
like someone had broken in, saying he would never
forgive her. The Detective told Melinda that he
thought Mitch would forgive her if it truly had been
an accident, but she needed to tell the truth;
was our friend in this. I need the truth. I
think you put the duct tape on her
A little girl wouldn't put duct tape on her
mouth to where can't breathe"
Melinda said that she wore gloves when she had
removed part of the tape on Grace's mouth just a
little bit so see if she was okay and when she
wasn't, she put the tape back over her mouth,
gathered up the items from the dollar store and
taken them to the dumpster.
A key fob had noted that Melinda had come home at
1:18 p.m., a call to Mitch took place at 1:36 p.m.
and that gave her 18 minutes to fabricate her story,
stage the apartment and hit herself on the head with
see somebody who snapped for a couple of
minutes. Someone who got
that's what the evidence tells me. Everything
points to that you
and made a horrible decision"
When asked about the relationship ending, Melinda
was sad, but I was giving him time to get over
Detective Chris Jones stopped her from speaking,
giving details that he felt were inconsistent and
noting that the time between the 911 call and the
Police arriving had been about six minutes, not
enough time for someone to sexually assault two
going to be straight up honest with you, there
are issues with your story.
brought up that Grace had duct tape on her when
that was never mentioned.
did you know if you were unconscious"
keep playing this game, Mindy, and the entire
world is going to see
as an evil monster who killed this little girl.
It looks like this was intentional"
Chris Jones asked Robyn Busby to leave the room and
the tape continued in a more empathetic way:
you didn't intentionally do this, then you
accidentally did. I don't want to walk
of this room and tell people you're a cold
blooded killer. People make
all the time"
When Melinda said she didn't know if it was
accidental or intention, Chris Jones Relied:
you do. If you ever go before a court, a jury,
people are not going to buy this
This isn't Florida, this is Collin County,
Texas. The first night you came and
to us, you told us everything we needed to know.
You were at Dollar Tree
minutes before. Will you tell us what happened"
Melinda said that she could not tell the truth about
what happened because Mitch would never forgive her
adding that it really didn't matter at that point
because she had already been arrested. Detective
Jones told Melinda that in order for people to have
closure, they need to know the truth and that most
people will understand if she had made mistakes, she
it was a mistake, then what now"
His reply was:
this happened, you took great care of Grace.
People need closure and
the only one who can do it. I like to see that
you are emotional about
Emotion shows me that there is a heart left"
Melinda told Chris Jones that she was not trying to
get attention, that she had not snapped:
I tell the truth, no one will believe it. I'm
not lying about most of it, there's
things I really don't remember. There wasn't an
escalation or anything.
going to be in jail forever"
A tape of Melinda speaking to her mother was played
and Bridget Muniz took the stand at 4:00 p.m.,
Bridget said that Melinda had asked her if she has
talked to Mitch to which she said:
daughter is dead because of you. I'm not going
to talk to Mitch"
Bridget said that she and her family were in fear
that Mitch might try to get back at Melinda by
hurting them and that she was upset when she heard
the arts and craft story:
don't know if a jury is ever going to believe
that, Mindy. If she couldn't breathe, she
have taken it off. Tell the truth, Mindy. You
did it, you did the cover up. They're
to push that it wasn't an accident. This is
Texas, they could go for death"
Criminalist Supervisor Michelle Boubel took the
stand having been the one who processed the crime
scene. A solution called Gentian Violet was used to
find fingerprints. On the piece of duct tape that
had supposedly been put on Melinda's mouth, a lip
and fingerprint impressions were found. A roll of
duct tape had been found in the cabinet above the
stove, though no identifiable fingerprints were
found on any of the duct tape.
On January 30, day four of the trial was taking
place. Dr. Kristen Reeder of the REACH Clinic (Referral and
Evaluation of at Risk Children)
was on the
stand speaking about her examination of Grace. While
examining Grace, Dr. Reeder said that she had found
a tiny blood clot which showed a nonspecific,
inconclusive finding for a sexual assault having
taken place adding that other factors sucah as
hygiene, potty training and insertion of a catheter
could have caused what was found:
had been intubated and was unresponsive which
tells me she had
brain damage already. The fact that she was
and un-sedated indicated a severe brain injury"
A strange injury, in the opinion of Dr. Reeder, was
the V shaped bruise on Grace's right shoulder. Grace
was said to have a sever hypoxic brain injury that
was caused by a lack of oxygen and on January 11th,
Doctors had done a brain death test and the results
were that there was no brain activity and no blood
was flowing into her brain, on January 12th, Grace
was declared brain dead. Dr. Reeder said that
suffocation had caused the brain injury:
age two or three children breathe with their
nose and mouth. A normal
or three year old would be able to remove the
duct tape. If a child had
runny or stuffy nose and was unable to breathe
out of her mouth, it could
lead to suffocation due to insufficient oxygen
Dr. Joni McClain performed the autopsy and said that
a cause of death for Grace was homicidal violence
including suffocation adding:
area around her hymen was a little hemorrhagic,
there were no tears or lacerations"
Based on what she saw, Dr. McClain could not
determine if Grace had been sexually assaulted. Some
of Grace's organs were donated so that other
children could live.
Jill Cramer and Barbara Leal were the Senior
Forensic DNA analysts and each would testify in the
case. Jill Cramer said that vaginal and anal swabs
from Melinda tested positive for semen matching
Mitch's DNA. DNA found on a zip tie had been
conclusive that it had come into contact with both
Melinda and Grace while there was no DNA found the
zip tie in the living room or the duct tape in the
kitchen. The duct tape in the living room and DNA
from Grace and Melihnda and the duct tape on Grace's
bed had only Grace's DNA on it, which indicated that
Melinda had told the truth about wearing gloves
It was said that Melinda had said, contradicted what
was seen in the home since things didn't appear to
have been thrown around, they seemed to have been
placed where they were. The zip ties were said to
have been used as "tiny baby handcuffs", though
Grace's hands were free when she was found. The V
shaped mark was thought to have been made by the
kitchen shears as when Melinda held Grace down and
they pressed into her skin. The shears were never
found since so much time had passed and the dumpster
had been emptied.
It was said that Grace might have sat down to take
her shoes off and Melinda then grabbed her and took
her to the bedroom, suffocated her and then went
around staging the scene, it was also said that the
duct tape was placed on her mouth after she died.
On day five, the jury was given instructions on
their deliberations and on February 2, 2015 after
about 45 minutes the jury came back with a guilty
verdict. Melinda Lynn Muniz was sentenced to life in
prison without the possibility of parole, for the
death of Grace Lillian Ford.
here to return to Grace's story