Federal Appeals Court Returns Crittenden County Trooper Killer's Sentence to Life

APRIL 14, 2004 - Posted at 2:21 p.m. CDT

ST. LOUIS, MO - The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis today overruled Little Rock's U.S. District Court and reinstated a life sentence for cop-killer Clay Anthony Ford.

The federal appeals court ruled that District Court Judge George Howard, Jr. should not have gone against an earlier decision by the Arkansas Supreme Court in an appeal of Ford's sentencing last year.  The Court of Appeals said state law had precedent over federal law in the case.

Ford was convicted of capital murder for killing Sergeant Glen Bailey of the Arkansas State Police in 1980 on an Interstate-55 exit ramp at Marion in Crittenden County.  After his execution was stayed in 1983, Ford's conviction was reduced to first-degree murder in 1997.

During the sentencing portion of that second trial, the prosecutor made controversial statements that anything less than life in prison would allow Ford to go free almost immediately.  Ford later appealed his sentence, claiming that the prosecutor's statements had no basis in fact and unfairly prejudiced the jury.

The state Supreme Court disagreed, saying that if Ford's attorney had objected properly, the objection would have been overruled by the trial judge anyway.  Ford took his appeal to federal court, leading to Howard's decision in Ford's favor last July.

Howard reduced Ford's sentence, but delayed the ruling until the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals could hear the case.  Today, that court said Howard went too far and the state high court's ruling should have held.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)