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Grandma accused of strangling 8-year-old she promised ‘would always be safe’

Gizzell Ford (center) her younger sister Jay'dah Outlaw (left).  |  Family photo

Gizzell Ford (center) and her younger sister Jay'dah Outlaw (left). | Family photo

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Updated: August 16, 2013 6:29AM

Eight-year-old Gizzell Ford’s mother thought she could trust her daughter with the child’s grandmother.

Sandra Mercado said paternal grandmother Helen Ford told her so late last year after a judge awarded temporary custody of Gizzell to the girl’s father.

“She reassured my family that Gizzell was safe,” Mercado told the Chicago Sun-Times. “Gizzell would always be safe.”

But prosecutors said paramedics found Gizzell’s cold, dead body covered with cuts, scratches and bruises — both old and new — at her 51-year-old grandmother’s home Friday.

Maggots had even hatched in one of the girl’s lacerations and spread to the front of her scalp while she was still alive, said assistant state’s attorney Amanda Pillsbury .

Police also found a pole, twine and cables in the home, Pillsbury said, some of which had blood on them.

Now Ford, who lives in the 5200 block of West Adams in the South Austin neighborhood, has been charged with the little girl’s first-degree murder. Cook County Judge Adam Bourgeois Jr. denied her bail after she was led slowly, sniffling and whimpering, into a courtroom Sunday.

Pillsbury explained to the judge that the girl’s father — the only other adult in the home when paramedics arrived — is bedridden and couldn’t have inflicted the kind of injuries Gizzell suffered.

Prosecutors did not offer any details on why they believe the child became a victim of the “heinous behavior indicative of wanton cruelty.”

But her mother didn’t mince words.

“They literally tortured my daughter,” Mercado said later, after court.

Pillsbury said paramedics responded to a call of a person not breathing at Ford’s home Friday at 11:01 a.m. Chicago fire officials had trouble getting into her apartment, and when they did enter, they found Gizzell’s dead body. The Cook County Medical Examiner would later determine her cause of death to be strangulation and blunt force trauma.

The prosecutor said there were cuts on the girl’s face, ears and lips, bruising and puncture wounds to her back, chest and abdomen as well as bruising to the front and back of her neck.

There was a deep laceration to her buttocks, the prosecutor said, ligature marks to the girl’s ankles and wrists and circular burn marks similar to cigarette burns on her body.

Pillsbury said Ford admitted to being the girl’s sole caregiver.

The state Department of Children and Family Services is now investigating Ford and Gizzell’s father for several allegations of neglect and abuse toward Gizzell and two of her cousins, spokesman Dave Clarkin said. One allegation against the grandmother involves torture, he said.

Gizzell’s two cousins were removed from the home and placed with a licensed foster family, Clarkin said. This was the first time DCFS has had contact with Ford’s family, he said.

Mercado said she was allowed to visit Gizzell twice a week after the girl’s father won temporary custody in November. Mercado said she was unable to come to court to defend herself against the father’s allegations that Mercado had an unstable home.

Later Mercado said Ford made “excuses” for canceling Mercado’s visits with Gizzell — doctor appointments, birthday parties and tutoring always seemed to get in the way.

When she did have contact with her daughter, Mercado said, the girl would wear long-sleeve shirts and acted more timid. She said Gizzell was a “beautiful little girl and “an awesome big sister” to three siblings, who live elsewhere.

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