Aunt of slain 2-year-old speaks out; suspect's neighbor recalls - Dallas News | myFOXdfw.com

Aunt of slain 2-year-old speaks out; suspect's neighbor recalls hearing 'loud thumps'

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Plano Police said Tuesday that they've made an arrest in the recent death of a 2-year-old girl.

Melinda Lynn Muniz, 25, has been charged with capital murder in the death of Grace Lillian Ford, police say. Muniz is reportedly the fiancée of Ford's father, Mitch.

Police say Muniz tried to get away with Ford's death by staging the crime scene to look like a home invasion and sexual assault. Muniz is accused of covering Ford's face with duct tape, suffocating her.

"I feel like we're more angry now than initially, because we didn't know all those minor details of what happened," said Ford's aunt, Stephanie Beltran.

Jennifer Meier lives in the apartment below Mitch's, and recalls hearing noises the day of the reported crime.

"I heard a couple of really loud thumps on my ceiling," said Meier.

Meier thought someone was moving furniture at his apartment, and says one thing in particular struck her about Muniz's home invasion story.

"No screaming, no calling for help," said Meier. "None of it."

Robbie McClung is Muniz's court-appointed attorney -- one of the few qualified to handle capital murder cases involving a child.

"She's very confused and overwhelmed, and like I said, very fragile," said McClung.

Police say Muniz is a killer, but in social media posts, she comes across as a loving caregiver. In one video, Ford is seen singing along to a song while riding in her car seat.

"Her thing was, she wanted to be Grace's mommy," said Beltran. "She wanted to have her little perfect life with Grace and Mitch and her."

In other photos, Muniz is seen doing Ford's hair and posing for a family-style picture with Ford and Mitch on the couch.

Muniz also loved to sing, as seen on her YouTube channel.

Meier recalls hearing Muniz sing regularly, and doesn't recall ever hearing Muniz and Mitch fight. However, according to court documents, Mitch told police they fought the morning of Jan. 9 before he left for work. 

Police said they got a welfare concern call from the girl's father on Jan. 9 about 1:40 p.m. from his apartment in the 1500 block of J Place. They were called there by Mitch, who told them he got a call from her and heard screaming in the background.

Police arrived and found Muniz, who appeared to be unconscious.

Ford was in another room, unresponsive. She was found face-down with no pants on and with her mouth duct-taped.

Ford was transported to a local hospital for treatment, where she died three days later.

Police say Muniz claimed that someone broke in and sexually assaulted her before she blacked out.

Police say a motive is still unclear, but they say there is overwhelming evidence that not only disproves Ford's death stemmed from a home invasion, but proves Muniz is the one who killed Ford.

Police say from the beginning, they were suspicious of Muniz's story. They say they conducted numerous interviews and collected lots of evidence.

One of the key pieces in the police's investigation is store surveillance video, where Muniz is seen buying duct tape, as well as other items used to stage the crime scene. Police say that video was recorded about 40 minutes prior to them being called to the apartment.

Muniz even took Ford with her to the store where she made the purchases.

Muniz's bond is set at $1 million. She made her first court appearance Wednesday.

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