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Natchez man gets 20-year sentence after pleading guilty to manslaughter

JAY SOWERS | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Troy Ford wipes tears from his eyes after addressing the family of Willie Lee Chatman during Ford's sentencing hearing on Tuesday afternoon in Natchez. Ford was sentenced to 20 years in prison for the 2011 killing of Chatman.
JAY SOWERS | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Troy Ford wipes tears from his eyes after addressing the family of Willie Lee Chatman during Ford’s sentencing hearing on Tuesday afternoon in Natchez. Ford was sentenced to 20 years in prison for the 2011 killing of Chatman.

NATCHEZ — With tears rolling down her face, Nevelyn Chatman asked the man who killed her husband why he took away her soul mate.

“In my heart, I want to forgive (Troy J. Ford), but right now I can’t forgive him because he took something that was so precious to me,” Nevelyn said. “This was my husband, my life and my soul mate, and I want to know why?

JAY SOWERS | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Nevelyn Chatman makes an emotional statement during the sentencing hearing for Troy Ford.
JAY SOWERS | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Nevelyn Chatman makes an emotional statement during the sentencing hearing for Troy Ford.

“Why would you do that to him?”

Ford, 29, was sentenced to 20 years in prison Tuesday by Adams County Circuit Court Judge Forrest “Al” Johnson.

Ford pleaded guilty Monday to manslaughter for shooting and killing Willie Lee Chatman in September 2011.

Before Johnson issued the sentence, Ford spoke to Nevelyn Chatman and the rest of Chatman’s relatives who gathered in the courthouse for the sentencing.

“I wish I could take it back, but I can’t,” Ford said. “It’s been 18 months and 10 days since I’ve been carrying this burden on my shoulders, and I’m truly sorry.

“I’m sorry.”

As Johnson prepared to issue the sentence, he said Ford’s plea to the lesser manslaughter charge, instead of a murder charge, was appropriate for the crime committed.

“I do feel this is the proper resolution (to the case) because it was between two individuals that knew each other, were supposedly friends and bad words were exchanged and one winds up killing the other,” Johnson said. “I do feel like that is the proper resolution for all those factors involved.

“But Mr. Ford, when you take a life, that’s as bad as it gets, even when the circumstances amount to manslaughter and not premeditated murder.”

Adams County Sheriff Chuck Mayfield said shortly after the incident that Willie Chatman was the victim of three execution-style gunshot wounds to the head on the night of Sept. 15, 2011.

A motorist spotted his body lying in McNeil Road approximately 150 yards from U.S. 84. Ford was arrested and charged with murder the day after the shooting.

Ford was apparently a friend of Willie Chatman’s before the shooting, which reportedly occurred following an argument. The two men had been drinking alcohol and arguing, according to witnesses who were with the two prior to the murder, Mayfield said.

Deputies believed Ford and Willie Chatman were driving in Ford’s white Ford Bronco, when the driver pulled over on McNeil Road and both men got out of the car to argue.

Mayfield said after Ford’s arrest that all three gunshot wounds entered Willie Chatman’s forehead above his right eye and exited the back of his head in roughly the same area.

Ronald Chatman, Willie’s cousin, also spoke before the sentencing and forgave Ford for what he had done.

“My family today, we’re grieving, but at the same time we forgive you,” Ronald said. “My family is trying to go to heaven, and you can’t go to heaven with hate in your heart.

“I just hope you find God and find peace with yourself after what you did.”