Metro-East News

Cook County hit with $48 million verdict in child’s gruesome death

A Chicago jury has awarded $48 million in the horrific abuse death of an 8-year-old girl, after evidence was presented that the state child protection system had failed her.

Gizzell Ford, 8, was found strangled, starved and brutally beaten in her grandmother’s apartment in 2013. The crime scene photos were apparently so horrific that the judge had to stop opening statements when a male juror began sobbing, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Two days before her death, Gizzell had written in her diary, “I hate this life because now I’m in super big trouble.”

The child had been treated by Dr. Norell Rosado, a “respected Chicago child-abuse pediatrician,” only weeks before her murder, on contract to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. After Gizzell was murdered by her grandmother, Helen Ford, the girl’s family accused Rosado of failing to ask basic questions, properly document injuries and alert the authorities about potential abuse.

Rosado, who no longer works for the state, stated that he only found abrasions that did not appear to be suspicious. The family’s attorneys argue that he should have asked the girl how she got her injuries outside of her grandmother’s presence. The state lawyers argued that Rosado should not be held responsible for what Ford did. The jury found that Rosado, and with him the state, failed Gizzell.

A Chicago Tribune investigation following Gizzell’s death found that multiple layers of trained professionals had contact with Gizzell in her final months, before she was tied to a bedpost, denied food and water, and punished for trying to take a sip from the toilet.

Gizzell had been removed from her mother by the state and placed with her unemployed grandmother and bedridden father on her father’s sole word that her mother, Sandra Mercado, was homeless. Mercado contested the allegation and had her father present to testify that they were living with him, but a judge did not allow him to testify and approved Gizzell’s immediate placement with her father and grandmother, both of whom had felony convictions.

In the months before her death, Gizzell had disclosed to various teachers or counselors that she was forced to care for her ill father without professional help, forced to squat or stand with her arms in the air for hours, and had suffered numerous infections. Nothing had been done, according to the Tribune.

The Tribune also found that the DCFS had investigated allegations of molestation, bruises and wounds, and visited Ford’s roach-infested, filthy apartment, but only noted clutter in the house.

The $48 million will likely come from Cook County’s insurance, according to the Tribune, to be paid to Gizzell’s mother and grandfather. Her father had died before his own trial on murder charges in Gizzell’s death.

Ford is currently serving a life sentence for her granddaughter’s murder.

Elizabeth Donald: 618-239-2507, @BNDedonald