LOVINGTON — The sister of Rick Ford reached for her relative’s hand as jurors came back with a verdict of guilty on all counts.
On Thursday, a jury found Prieto guilty of committing first-degree murder, a first-degree felony; armed robbery, a second-degree felony; and tampering with evidence, a fourth-degree felony.
Prieto, 44, of Hobbs, shot and killed Ford, also of Hobbs, in his home on East Jemez Street in February 2020.
The family of Ford said they are pleased with the verdict and can finally lay everything to rest.
“It is a big sigh of relief and a blessing from God,” Kay Peveler, sister of Rick Ford said. “Our family can start healing now and the community is safer too. I applaud everyone. The jurors for being fair and just and the attorneys. Rick was my only brother. Both of our parents are deceased and I am the only one left. He was a ray of sunshine and tried to help everyone. He had a big heart.
“Today we leave with full hearts and know that justice was done. We can start rebuilding our lives to the best we can. We will carry on a legacy for him. … Now, we can go home and know we’re done.”
Jury deliberations began at around 2:30 p.m. Thursday and lasted until about 5 p.m.
During closing arguments, Fifth Judicial District Attorney Dianna Luce said the evidence against Prieto was overwhelmingly in support of a guilty verdict. She said the jury should find Prieto guilty because he had motive.
“He had a motive to kill Rick Ford,” Luce told jurors. “Remember that he claimed he was owed $15,000 and Rick Ford didn’t pay him. Rick Ford was going to loan him a camper and then Ford came and got the camper while (Prieto’s) stuff was in it. He was going to get what he thought he was owed.”
Prieto’s defense attorney Daniel Gallegos Jr. told the jury the DA’s “theory” was “a mile wide and inch deep,” meaning there was no investigation done by HPD, “only evidence collection.”
“There were a lot of items photographed, but very little was tested,” Gallegos said to jurors. “The testing that did occur was a mixed bag. Instead of investigating the case, and trying to make sense of that mixed bag, the Hobbs Police Department basically turned it over for prosecution.”
Luce told jurors, during the early morning hours of Feb. 23, 2020, Ford and his dog came home after work. Around 1:49 a.m., Ford could be seen on his ADT security system unlocking his front door and letting his dog inside.
Just a minute later, Luce explained, a sensor alerts to glass breaking inside of the home. Two minutes later, Prieto is seen walking out of the house, “sweaty and breathing heavily.”
“I would submit to you that the evidence you have seen you can make a reasonable inference that when (Prieto) goes to this house he already has tools, he already is armed … His story doesn’t add up,”
Luce said during her closing arguments.
Gallegos said his theory is Prieto found Ford already dead.
Luce told jurors Ford was shot twice by Prieto in the front door of his home.
“Where did the OMI tell you that he was shot? He was shot in the back and in the head. She said that both of them caused an injury, but the one to the head was definitely lethal. So (Ford) made it inside that door, just a few feet, to be shot,” Luce said.
Gallegos said it was all “conjecture at this point.”
“There were no reports of gunshots in the area or anything like that,” Gallegos told jurors. “He is carrying no backpack, no weapon.”
Luce explained next to the trail of blood from where Prieto dragged Ford, there were drops of blood, one of which matched Prieto’s DNA.
“We also know that Rebecca Morley swabbed the right ankle of Rick Ford’s pants. … that swab was the DNA of Ralph Prieto … that’s because (Prieto) drug him from the front door through that living to the bedroom … He told Det. Benavidez didn’t think that he was cut that bad. Well, he was,” Luce said.
Luce told jurors Prieto confessed to two different people that he had killed Ford.
“One of them was Wes Busby. He says that Ralph Prieto contacts him, he goes to his house, and what does he tell him? He tells him that he killed Rick Ford. And he’s got a box of money. You heard from Wes Busby $140,000 is what (Prieto) says he got. …The second person that he tells is on Facebook. At 7:53 a.m., (Prieto) says, ‘Bro, I (expletive) his ass. He laying in the hallway on the other side of the house.’ He continues to tell the guy to go in there, don’t get greedy and to blaze the place. He goes on talking to this person, Jeremy Dunigan.”
Luce said in addition to admitting to committing the murder, Prieto took videos of himself with thousands of dollars in cash, and a photo in front of Ford’s truck. When Fort Worth police arrested him, he had that cash, gold coins and Ford’s truck keys on him.
“We know that Ralph Prieto’s phone was recovered with him and on it he had a video. We know he had the money. The evidence collected in the motel room by the Fort Worth police, they found a torn currency band. All the currency they found was in the bands. This is money Ralph Prieto took from that safe. That safe was swabbed and that was the DNA of Ralph Prieto,” Luce told jurors. “We know that he took a selfie of himself with that truck on his phone. We know that he took a photograph of that black Lincoln that he had purchased. We know that he took a screenshot of 511 E. Jemez and sent it to someone.”
Gallegos argued it would be difficult for Prieto to drag Ford from the front of the home to the back, within a matter of minutes of killing him and then being seen leaving the home on the ADT security camera.
“At 1:42 a.m., the ADT records show a login on that Rick Ford account and somebody was watching the live video streams. We know from Becky Keen that she was talking and texting with him and he had his phone (prior to the murder). He was last seen around midnight. Nearly two hours pass between when he was last seen and when he arrived at his house,” Gallegos tried to sway the jury. “We know at 1:42 a.m., he logs in and looks at available camera streams … and then at 1:43 a.m., another login, and then at 1:49 a.m., Rick arrives home. He opens the door and walks in.
“The state’s theory is Ralph Prieto then moves from that bathroom where the skylight is, through that cluttered house, all the way to the entryway and then kills Rick Ford, who is apparently standing in the same spot as when he walked in. It is unclear from the state’s theory what happens from there. I would tell you that the state’s theory…sounds like a cat burglar. They are very small, nimble, and quick. You’ve had a chance to observe Mr. Prieto throughout this trial and if there’s anything that describes him it is not that,” Gallegos said.
Gallegos tried to convince jurors there wasn’t any direct evidence to tie Prieto to killing Ford.
“No firearm was ever found, and you would think in a murder case like this, a firearm would be a pretty important piece of evidence,” Gallegos told jurors. “We never heard anything about them serving a search warrant on Ralph Prieto’s residence.”
“There was no testimony that (Prieto’s) blood was found anywhere on that truck or on the steering wheel…At some point Ralph gets back into the house somehow but there’s no evidence of that. There’s nothing that shows anybody going back into that house…Ralph Prieto has a cut hand, he is dragging him and he is bleeding…The blood drops are on the left side of the trail. We know his hand was cut on right side so how does the dripping blood end up on the left side of the blood trail? Keep in mind, none of those blood drops were ever tested so we don’t actually know where any of those blood drops came from…we have the right pant leg (of Ford) now if you remember, the DNA expert said there was no blood indicated, there was DNA, but no blood on the right ankle of that pant leg. It doesn’t make sense. Where is the further investigation,” Gallegos said.
“They collected a lot of evidence, but that is where it ended. They said there’s some blood, there’s some labels, well send out a couple of tests. How do we figure this out and say here’s the case?
“An investigation requires some sort of interpretation and some sort of work to see what the evidence actually means.”