AUBURN — A jury found a Lisbon man guilty Friday of aggravated attempted murder of a local police officer in connection with a high-speed chase two years ago.
Bartolo Ford, 49, was found guilty in Androscoggin County Superior Court of five other felonies relating to the incident that began with his theft of concrete cylinders.
The theft led to a police pursuit during which Ford rammed two cruisers with his dump truck. A third cruiser was disabled by shattered concrete left on the roadway by one of the stolen cylinders. Ford chased a fourth cruiser driven by the police department's deputy chief before eventually fleeing the scene and abandoning his truck. One of the officers shot Ford in the hip during the chase, but the wound didn't stop him.
A jury of five men and seven women deliberated for three hours before returning guilty verdicts on all seven counts, including two counts of aggravated criminal mischief, two counts of reckless conduct, eluding an officer and a misdemeanor theft charge.
Jurors interrupted their private discussion when they asked Justice Donald Marden whether they could view the videotape from the cruiser camera in the car driven by officer Matthew Johnson. A grand jury accused Ford of trying to kill Johnson by ramming his cruiser head-on on the night of Sept. 15, 2008.
Anticipating the crash, Johnson had fled his cruiser on foot. He could be heard on the tape saying: “He's trying to kill me.”
The jury heard three days of testimony before reaching its decision. Defense attorney Daniel Lilley asked the clerk to poll each juror on the attempted murder charge.
Defense attorneys challenged few of the facts surrounding the theft and ensuing chase as outlined by prosecutors. Instead, Lilley and co-counsel Darrick Banda sought to cast doubt on Ford's guilt by suggesting he wasn't conscious of his actions and therefore couldn't have intended to harm Johnson or any of the other officers.
Ford told two psychiatrists and a psychologist that he suffered a flashback that night to his service in the U.S. Army Reserve. He served in the Persian Gulf War, and claimed he had shot and killed an Iraqi soldier who pointed a gun at him. He also told doctors he saw dead soldiers and body parts.
The experts split over whether Ford was psychotic that night and knew whether he was dealing with police or Iraqi soldiers. The experts all agreed he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Deputy District Attorney Craig Turner was pleased with the verdict, commending the jury for working hard to reach the “right decision.”
Lilley, the lead defense lawyer, said he was disappointed. He, Banda and Ford would review their options. Ford and his family left the court building Friday evening without commenting on the verdict.
Ford is expected to be sentenced in late September. He has been free on $50,000 surety in the form of a lien on his wife's property. The judge doubled the amount Ford would have to post and gave him until the end of the day on Monday to come up with the funds.
Prosecutors had sought to add a surprise witness to their case Friday morning, but the judge didn't allow it.
A soldier who served with Ford during Operation Desert Storm as Ford's superior would have testified that Ford likely didn't witness the horrors he claimed because he hadn't been authorized to go to the places he claimed he went.
The chase in September 2008 began in a parking lot at about 9 p.m. on Minot Avenue. A local police officer questioned Ford before he sped away. That officer pursued him until getting a flat from a chunk of concrete. A second officer, Cpl. Kristopher Bouchard, took up the chase. Ford rammed Bouchard's cruiser by backing into his front. Bouchard fired four shots through the door of the truck, hitting Ford in the hip.
He fled again, then rammed Johnson's cruiser head-on farther down the road in Poland, near the Poland Spring bottling plant.
At the intersection of Routes 26 and 121, Deputy Chief Jason Moen took up the chase in an unmarked cruiser. When he switched on his flashing blue lights, Ford stopped and chased Moen's car, then fled to a dead-end road. He abandoned his truck in a stream and fled on foot into the woods. He surrendered later to a Maine State Police trooper on Route 26.