Plano woman charged with murder of fiancé's daughter

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by JOBIN PANICKER

Bio | Email | Follow: @jobinpnews

WFAA

Posted on January 28, 2014 at 8:25 PM

Updated Wednesday, Jan 29 at 3:26 PM

PLANO — Plano police said Tuesday that Melinda Lynn Muniz, 25, has been arrested and charged with capital murder in the suffocation death of her fiancé's daughter.

Investigators say Muniz staged a break-in to deflect suspicion.

Two-year-old Grace Lillian Ford was found unconscious in a crib with her mouth covered with duct tape at an apartment Muniz shared with fiancé Mitch Ford in the 1500 block of J Place on January 9, according to an arrest affidavit.

Muniz was found on the floor of another room with her mouth taped shut and her pants pulled down.

The affidavit states that Muniz told police she had been sexually assaulted by an unknown male. But investigators said her story of an assault had holes.

Detectives said information about her activities the day of her alleged assault conflicted and that her story about the alleged attack was "inconsistent."

Medical tests failed to corroborate her claim of a sexual assault.

"What was reported to us that had taken place, there was not any way that could have happened," Plano police spokesman David Tilley said.

The couple had been fighting over text messages and a topless video on Muniz' cell phone that Mr. Ford believed she had sent to a personal trainer, and Ford had told Muniz they were going to break up when he left for work on Jan. 9.

Grace was pronounced dead on January 12, and the child's death was ruled a homicide on January 22 by the Dallas County Medical Examiner's office.

Police uncovered surveillance video showing that Muniz went to a nearby dollar store on Jan. 9 and had Grace riding in the shopping cart as she purchased duct tape, zip ties, kitchen shears, and cotton swabs just hours before police were called to her apartment.

"She took the child with her to purchase the items that she was going to use during the commission of the crime," Tilley said. "Clearly premeditated."

On Jan. 10, Muniz told investigators she had memory loss, "could not remember the last couple of months and said her memory should come back in a couple of days," according to the affidavit.

Mitch Ford told police he met with Muniz despite the fact he was advised not to by police and his attorneys on Jan. 15. He said Muniz continued to act as if she did not recognize him. He questioned her about her claims of amnesia in his car, and later had drinks with her at a restaurant in McKinney where she continued to act as if she didn't remember the last year-and-a-half, Ford told police.

The affidavit states Mr. Ford told police later that night he and Muniz had sex in his car down the street from her house, and as she left, she asked him if anything was going to happen to her. He said he told her Grace had died, but did not give her specific information.

Muniz was being held at the Plano City Jail on $1 million bond.

Grace Ford's family did not want to go on camera to discuss Tuesday's developments, but they issued this written statement:

"God will make sure justice is served to the fullest. What this monster did is as evil as it can get. There is no excuse."

CPS was called to the home on July 20, 2013, Nov. 1, 2013, and Dec. 19, 2013. CPS confirmed the allegations, but was unable to confirm any abuse. A spokesperson said revisiting is common to determine if anything was missed.

According to the affidavit, Grace's grandfather contacted Child Protective Services two days before the incident at Muniz' apartment asking them to reopen the case, and that a pattern of abuse had begun when Muniz and Ford moved in together.

The 2-year-old's mother, Emily Ward, did not want to speak on camera but said she hopes her daughter's murder will bring change that "forces CPS to better protect children." Ward said she accused Muniz of rough handling of her daughter and inflicting bruises in the past, as well as intentionally overdosing the girl with Bendryl.

"CPS has been called in three times since July; that raises a red flag for anyone reading the story, I'm sure," said Gracie's aunt, Stephanie Beltran. "Unfortunately, CPS didn't protect Grace. Absolutely [more should have been done]. I think we're all angry about that."

CPS is conducting a review of this case.

E-mail jpanicker@wfaa.com

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