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Mom sought to regain custody of slain girl

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 17, 2013 6:36AM



Eight months before 8-year-old Gizzell Ford suffered a horrifying demise allegedly at the hands of her paternal grandmother, court records show the girl’s mother tried to win back custody of her daughter.

But Cook County Judge Lionel Jean-Baptiste wouldn’t give her back to Sandra Mercado last December.

A court mediator interviewed Gizzell’s parents and found Mercado, her mother, moved in-and-out of four homes in a year. She was thrown out of one, the judge said, and was left to walk the streets with her children at 2 a.m. only to be attacked by a family member.

The judge denied Mercado custody and ordered her to get parenting classes. Meanwhile, his ruling based on the mediator’s findings offered no hint of trouble at the home Andre Ford, Gizzell’s father, shared with the woman now accused of the little girl’s murder — Helen Ford, her grandmother.

The mediator found Gizzell was “safe and comfortable” in their home, according to the judge’s order. But prosecutors say that’s where paramedics found Gizzell dead Friday, her cold body covered in old and new cuts, bruises and scratches.

“Obviously, they lied,” Mercado said.

Gizzell’s mother denied being thrown out of a home and said the family member who “attacked” her only hit her once. She also said someone must have realized something was wrong with her daughter in recent months and failed to report it.

“Did these people hear my child screaming and just refuse to do something?” Mercado said.

The judge had granted Mercado supervised visits with her daughter, but Mercado said she would see the girl wearing long-sleeved shirts and that as of late the girl had become more timid. Often, according to Mercado, the girl’s grandmother would come up with excuses to cancel the visits.

Ford, 51, is charged with first-degree murder in Gizzell’s death. Assistant State’s Attorney Amanda Pillsbury said Gizzell was found in Ford’s apartment in the 5200 block of West Adams after paramedics answered a call of a person not breathing there.

Pillsbury said maggots had even hatched in one of the girl’s lacerations and spread to the front of her scalp while she was still alive. Ford is being held without bail and Mercado said she spent Gizzell’s sister’s birthday raising funds for Gizzell’s funeral.

Pillsbury said Andre Ford is bedridden and couldn’t have inflicted Gizzell’s injuries. The state’s child welfare agency is nevertheless investigating him and Helen Ford for several allegations of neglect and abuse toward Gizzell and two of her cousins.

Court records show Gizzell has for years been the subject of an ongoing custody dispute. In the latest round, Andre Ford alleged Mercado in November was homeless. He said he believed the girl wasn’t going to school and that Mercado might have had plans to leave the state.

He won temporary custody based on those claims, records show, but Mercado countered days later that she’d never been homeless, that she’d recently picked up the keys to a new apartment and that Gizzell had missed just three days of school.

Judge Jean-Baptiste ordered an emergency intervention which, according to the chief judge’s office, is most frequently done out of concern for the safety of the child. Ultimately, he wasn’t convinced by Mercado’s arguments.



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