LUMBERTON — John Blount has won the Top Deputy award before at the Robeson County Sheriff’s Office. He might have the inside lane to taking that title again.
It was Blount who in 2015 handled a rather routine case involving a St. Pauls man who had made threats at a local pharmacy, and it was the deputy’s decision to take fingerprints from the accused that perhaps has solved a 31-year-old rape and murder that occurred in San Diego.
The 45-year-old Blount, a Sheriff’s Office deputy for 14 years, recently was reminded of his encounter with Kevin Thomas Ford, who lived at 3884 N.C. 20 West in St. Pauls, in 2015, when Ford was accused of communicating threats at a local pharmacy, apparently over prescription drugs.
Blount called Ford on the telephone, who, according to the deputy, “fussed a little bit” when asked to come to the Sheriff’s Office, and did so only under the threat of officers coming to pick him up. Blount said Ford later apologized for being difficult.
What returned the case to the news was Blount’s decision to fingerprint Ford. He explained why.
“At the time, the FBI had said we needed to start fingerprinting more cases, such as domestic violence, communicating threats, assault, things that could lead to bigger charges later,” Blount said.
And so he fingerprinted Ford.
That could have been the end of that, except 2,500 miles to the west, Tony Johnson, an investigator with the San Diego District Attorney’s Office, was reviewing cold cases in that jurisdiction. One case was the May 20, 1987, murder of Grace Hayden, a 79-year-old widow who lived alone in an apartment.
Johnson found there was a latent fingerprint of a person’s left ring finger and DNA from semen that existed as evidence. So he entered the fingerprint into a national data base that had not existed in 1987, and there was a match with Ford, now 62 years old and living in Robeson County. Johnson called Erich Hackney, an investigator with the Robeson County District Attorney’s Office, and put in motion a series of events that culminated with Ford’s arrest this past week on charges that he killed Hayden. Investigators say a DNA sample taken from Ford matched one left at the murder scene.
Ford is being held without bond and awaiting return to California to stand trial. He has denied raping and killing Hayden, but acknowledged to investigators that he lived in California at the time. He had married in 1978, but was divorced, and was a homeless 31-year-old battling a cocaine addiction at the time Hayden was murdered.
He remarried and stayed out of trouble for the most part in Robeson County, absent some traffic violations and the 2015 incident. Several neighbors, however, described him as always carrying a gun and being a bully.
Hackney, in announcing Ford’s arrest, spoke about Blount’s decision — and how it was critical to solving the case.
“It should be noted that the usual and customary procedure for processing a warrant of this nature is to carry the defendant before a magistrate for bond purposes,” Hackney said. “However in this case, … Deputy Blount decided to fingerprint Ford as well, something rarely done on a charge of this nature. It was this set of fingerprints that were taken by Blount that matched the print left by Ford at the crime scene.”
Blount was pleased that his attention to the FBI recommendation paid off big.
“I honestly was just surprised when I heard the news,” he said. “Usually we don’t fingerprint for stuff like that, but everything worked out good. There is a reason for everything, and in this case that was the reason.”
Sheriff Ken Sealey joined in the praise of Blount, saying he “done a great job.”
Sealey, who is retiring as sheriff in December, said this cold case was the oldest he has been a part of that has apparently been solved.
“Not in my whole 50 years,” Sealey said. “I have solved a few cases with fingerprints, but this is the oldest case I can remember.”