It’s easier to think of Death Row inmates as evil monsters, not as fathers who once might have protected their children from imaginary monsters beneath their beds.
Peggy Ford knows Death Row inmate
No. 763722 as “Dad.” Most local residents know him as James “Jimbo” Ford, one of the cruelest, most violent men ever to call Southwest Florida home.
“I’m not afraid to say I’m my father’s child or admit what he did,” Peggy said.
Crime, especially homicide, has many victims.
“I do feel like a victim,” said Peggy, 30. “I don’t want to look at myself like that.”
Peggy has paid for the sins of her father for half of her life now.
She was just 15 when her father murdered Greg and Kimberly Malnory in rural Charlotte County. Details of the horrific attacks filtered into the hallways of Peggy’s school. Her father’s unimaginable acts followed her into classrooms at Charlotte High, where daily newspaper coverage of the trial fueled bullying toward the monster’s child.
“People didn’t want to have anything to do with me,” she said. “It’s hard for me to get a job. It’s hard for me to hold a job. It was hard for me to have a relationship. It was hard for me to have friendships.”
They called her father a monster, a serial killer. Some directed their anger toward Peggy, a teenager who lost her father to incarceration, and the final years of her childhood to ridicule and shame.
“To find out something like this happened was devastating,” Peggy said. “He never showed a violent side.”
Peggy has spent 15 years trying to figure out how the man she knew as “Dad” could have done what he did on that sod farm.
“There’s something in my heart that tells me he’s where he needs to be,” she said. “My heart tells me he did it. We don’t talk about it. It’s quite obvious what he did.”
When Jimbo, now 52, was sentenced to death, Peggy had to make a decision about whether to maintain a relationship.
“Why continue with someone or get closer when I know what’s going to happen?” she said.
Peggy and her father wrote letters to each other while she struggled with whether to visit him. She finally made the trip to Union Correctional Institution in North Florida in 2010.
“I didn’t go visit him for him. It was for myself, so I could have some kind of closure,” Peggy said.
She saw him again in June 2011. Jimbo, who is one of 403 prisoners on Death Row, told his daughter about a fellow inmate who was led away to his execution. He told Peggy the inmate held his head high.
“My dad broke down. You could see it in his eyes — he’s scared,” she said. “He said, ‘They’re going to have to pull me out of here.’”
Although they never have spoken about what took place in 1997, Peggy believes her father knows he has caused a lot of pain.
“He battles with what he has done — not just how it’s affected him, but for the (Malnorys’ families) and for our family,” she said. “What he’s done has been traumatic for everyone.”
Peggy has struggled with post-traumatic stress and paralyzing anxiety, in addition to other health issues. She stays inside most days, and ventures out only in the middle of the night for grocery shopping.
Her American bulldog, Alize, is her most loyal companion.
“He’s the best thing that’s ever been in my life,” she said. “He’s the only thing that couldn’t judge me.”
She also has Missy Kitty, a very talkative yellow-naped Amazon parrot who mimics laughter and routinely shares the infectious giggles. Her family now consists of her pets and a close group of friends.
Her father has spent 13 years on Death Row, which is about the average length of stay before execution, according to the Florida Department of Corrections. Jimbo has exhausted all of his appeals, according to the state Attorney General’s Office. He now waits for the governor’s death warrant.
“He should be right where he is,” Peggy said. “I feel very bad (for the Malnorys’ families). I know they’ve had very difficult things happen.”
Peggy will not attend her father’s execution. She knows some will cheer at her father’s death. She knows her presence could cause additional pain for the Malnorys’ families. And she knows watching her father die won’t help her mental health.
“What he has done doesn’t change the fact that I love him,” she said.
It also doesn’t change the fact that she always will be Jimbo Ford’s daughter.
“It’s really hard to say who my father is and what he is accused of and what he did,” Peggy said. “People are still going to judge. … If you really knew who I was, you wouldn’t feel that way.
“I am a good person.”