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Tony Egbuna FORD





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Home invasion - Robbery
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: December 18, 1991
Date of arrest: Next day
Date of birth: June 19, 1973
Victim profile: Armando Murillo (male, 18)
Method of murder: Shooting
Location: El Paso County, Texas, USA
Status: Sentenced to death on October 14, 1993

photo gallery


The United States Court of Appeals
For the Fifth Circuit

opinion 04-70018


Tony Egbuna Ford  was sentenced to death for the murder of eighteen-year-old Armando Murillo during a home invasion in El Paso in late 1991.  The assailants also attempted to kill Armando Murillo’s mother and two sisters.  

On December 18, 1991 the Murillo family attended a Christmas play to see their cousin perform. At the conclusion of the play, the family returned to the home of their mother, Myra Murillo, for a quick dinner.

The mother and her three children, Myra Magdalena, Armando and Lisa, all planned to do some Christmas shopping later that evening. After dinner, Armando was in the family room watching television, Myra Magdalena was readying herself in her bedroom for her shopping trip, and Lisa was in the kitchen.

Their mother called out to her children at some point to inquire if any had heard the two men who had knocked at the door. The two men were apparently looking for the “man of the house,” and the mother had refused to permit their entrance. After the children informed her they had heard nothing, each returned to his or her previous task.

Moments later Myra Magdalena stepped out into the hallway to encourage her family to hurry up. At that moment, she saw her mother and her brother retreating from the doorway. Her mother was backing up as if she was in fear for her life, kind of crouching down, and her brother looked as if he had been hit in the head and was huddled in the corner.

Myra testified that within a few seconds, she saw Tony Ford standing to her right, next to her at the entry to her bedroom. Subsequently she saw his cohort, later identified as Van Nash Belton. She testified that they both had guns.

Lisa testified that she “heard a barging in, just a lot of noise, racket, like somebody kicking wood.” She saw two strangers in the hallway with guns.

Ford testified at trial that he was not one of the two men who “barged in” to the Murillo home that night and that the second person was Belton’s brother, Victor Belton. Nevertheless, Myra and Lisa Murillo identified Ford as the second man.

The two men ordered all the family members to kneel on the floor and be quiet. The men demanded to know where “‘the man of the house’” was, and where the money was, and then demanded jewelry and other valuables, including car keys. The men were yelling and threatening, constantly telling everyone to “‘shut the f*** up.’”

When Lisa threw a set of car keys at Ford, he became angry and said, “‘F*** you, just for that, I was just going to blow him. Now I’m going to f***ing blow you all.” Ford then, in very rapid succession, shot Armando in the back of the head, shot Mrs. Murillo in the head, shot at but missed Myra (who feigned injury), and shot Lisa in the shoulder.

Myra and Lisa identified Ford as the person who did the shooting, and as the person who was dominating, doing the most talking and giving most of the orders.


The Case

In 1991 Tony was 18 years old. One night he gave a ride to two brothers – Van and Victor Belton. He drove the brothers at their request to a nearby residence and waited in the truck for them as they approached the house. The brothers forced their way into the house and once inside engaged in a heated dispute with one of the occupants, an 18 year old named Armando Murillo. Tony knew the brothers were going there to resolve a dispute over a debt, however he never for a second anticipated what followed. He waited and on the two brothers’ return he drove them home and proceeded home himself. He was aware that the brothers
had taken property from the house and assumed it had been taken by way of payment of the debt.

The following day Tony was arrested and charged with capital murder. At the time of his arrest he was not told why he was being arrested but went willingly with the police. He was an innocent man and felt he had no reason not to do as they asked. Earlier the same day one of the brothers, Van Belton, who had been identified by Armando’s sister, had also been arrested. This sister had attended the same school as Van and so easily recognized him. At the time of Van’s arrest he had been hiding in the loft of his house hoping to evade the police. When he was found both his brother Victor and his father fought with the police in trying to prevent his arrest. Because of this Victor was also arrested. This was some 9 hours or so following the crime.

When Tony learned the charges against him he was horrified. He had had no knowledge up to that moment that someone had been killed the night before. Tony was told that Van Belton had made a statement alleging he had shot and killed Armando, and had shot at the three female occupants of the house – Armando’s mother and two sisters. Tony was also verbally abused and threatened with the death penalty and stories of what would happen to him when he went to jail by the detectives. He was not allowed to call his mother or a lawyer despite his repeated requests. He was told over and over that he MUST confess. He refused. And under threats and intimidation he also refused to make a statement because he knew nothing of what had occurred inside the house that night, and feared anything he did say would only be used by these overly aggressive detectives to lay the blame at his door for something he did not do.

Simply put Van Belton had a choice – he could tell the truth and see his brother face execution, or he could “save” his brother and blame the only other person he could. He chose to sacrifice Tony for his brother. Tony’s refusal to speak with the detectives at the time of his interview was used along with Van Belton’s statement, to seal his fate. His silence was assumed to be the silence of a guilty man with no remorse. The fact that he was 18 years old, terrified and refused any contact with anyone who could advise or support him through this traumatic experience, was never considered.

Armando’s two sisters were shown a photo spread from which to identify the man who had shot and killed Armando. That spread did not include Victor Belton and had Tony at position number 4. The first sister first picked out number 5 as the man who had shot and killed her brother, but this number is clearly shown as being crossed out and changed to number 4 on the photo spread by the detective carrying out the identification. No explanation is given to explain why this was done. The second sister identified Tony at a later time from the exact same photo spread her sister saw. By this time Tony’s picture had been spread all over the TV news, and newspapers as the prime suspect in the case, and so questions remain unanswered as to whether her identification was based consciously or subconsciously on her sister’s identification or because Tony’s face was already known to her as being the man accused of the shooting.

Tony’s subsequent trial held a catalogue of errors. No physical evidence linked Tony to the scene of the crime or the crime itself. By contrast property from the victim, and bullets consistent with those used in the crime were found at the Belton’s house. Tony did not have any blood on his clothing. By contrast Victor Belton’s clothing which was seized at the time of his arrest had multiple blood stains on it. This clothing was never tested despite it being retained by the police for over 14 years. Victor was never charged with any more than simply obstructing the police.

Tony was also denied the funds for a legal expert in the field of eye witness identification. Such identifications are the single most common reason for innocent people being wrongly convicted. This is an established and accepted fact. However Tony was not given the opportunity to argue against these extremely questionable identifications. At the time of Tony being found guilty a court journalist overheard police officers who had worked on the case talking. They were voicing their shock that Tony had been found guilty at all, because they had heard talk on the street that another man was known to be to blame.

The same court reporter signed an affidavit saying that he had witnessed the prosecutors outside of the court room pre-trial point to Tony and ask the two Belton sisters did Tony “look like the man from that night”. After a long pause the sisters could only answer “Maybe”. And yet Tony was convicted solely on eyewitness testimony. Eyewitnesses who faced with the most biased physical line up possible could only answer “Maybe”. Other witnesses have at various times come forward to say Victor has “bragged” to them that he has gotten away with murder. Despite all this Tony remains on Texas Death Row waiting to die, for something he simply did not do.

After 16 years of unjust incarceration Tony has finally been granted the right to have Victor Belton’s clothing DNA tested. This testing was granted just 8 days before what could have been Tony’s execution date, in December 2005. Had he not been fortunate in having a well respected and effective lawyer come forward to take on his case Tony could well have been dead now. Tony’s lawyer came to his case through a group known as the Innocence Project, and was so struck by the clear miscarriage of justice that he took his case on immediately and has worked tirelessly to persuade the appeals court to grant Tony the testing that could save his life.

But we are left with grave concerns still. Victor Belton’s clothing has not been stored in the manner one might expect of such a potentially vital piece of evidence. It has been simply thrown in a drawer along with other items seized at the time and forgotten. Testing results so far are inconclusive. And so while we pray that we be allowed further testing that will shine light on the truth we still must live with the worry that time and mishandling, and the prosecution’s reluctance to examine the possibility they have the wrong man may result in us not being allowed to present Tony’s case for review to the courts. Above all, our concern is that this is the state of Texas. The state that carries out more executions than any other state in America – accounting in fact for 1/3 of ALL executions in America, and one that takes great pride in that fact. Can we really expect justice in such a bloodthirsty place without a fight?



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