Keri Blakinger: The Dungeons & Dragons Players of Death Rowhttps://www.nytimes.com/2023/08/31/magazine/dungeons-dragons-death-row.html
The first time Tony Ford played Dungeons & Dragons, he was a wiry Black kid who had never seen the inside of a prison. His mother, a police officer in Detroit, had quit the force and moved the family to West Texas. To Ford, it seemed like a different world. Strangers talked funny, and El Paso was half desert. But he could skateboard in all that open space, and he eventually befriended a nerdy white kid with a passion for Dungeons & Dragons. Ford fell in love with the role-playing game right away; it was complex and cerebral, a saga you could lose yourself in. And in the 1980s, everyone seemed to be playing it.
D.&D. had come out a decade earlier with little fanfare. It was a tabletop role-playing game known for its miniature figurines and 20-sided dice. Players were entranced by the way it combined a choose-your-own-adventure structure with group performance. In D.&D., participants create their own characters often magical creatures like elves and wizards to go on quests in fantasy worlds. A narrator and referee, known as the Dungeon Master, guides players through each twist and turn of the plot. Theres an element of chance: The roll of the die can determine if a blow is strong enough to take down a monster or whether a stranger will help you. The game has since become one of the most popular in the world, celebrated in nostalgic television shows and dramatized in movies. It is played in homes, at large conventions and even in prisons.
By the time Ford got to high school, he had drifted toward other interests girls, cars and friends who sold drugs and ran with gangs. Ford started doing those things, too. He didnt get into serious trouble until Dec. 18, 1991. Sometime before 9 p.m., two Black men knocked on the door of a small home on Dale Douglas Drive in southeast El Paso, asking for the man of the house. The woman who answered, Myra Murillo, refused to let them in. A few minutes later, they returned, breaking down the door and demanding money and jewelry. One opened fire, killing Murillos 18-year-old son, Armando.
Within hours, police picked up a suspect, who said Ford was his partner. They arrested Ford, who was 18 at the time, the following day. He has maintained that the two men who entered the house were brothers, and that he was outside in the car the whole time. There was no physical evidence clearly connecting him to the crime. He was so confident that a jury would believe him that he rejected a plea deal and took his case to trial in July 1993. He lost. By October, at age 20, he was on death row.
For those who might not know, she herself has been incarcerated.
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