A page from Newsday on June 14, 1996, showing coverage...

A page from Newsday on June 14, 1996, showing coverage of the case. Credit: Newsday

The central figure in one of Long Island's more bizarre political murder conspiracies has won an order to be released from a secure psychiatric hospital to a less restrictive institution.

John Ford, 70, a retired court officer from Bellport, was a delusional UFO enthusiast who conspired to kill top Suffolk Republicans by putting radium in their toothpaste and cars. He did so because he believed government officials were hiding contact with space aliens, forensic psychiatrists reported. He also wanted to burn down Suffolk Republican headquarters and promote Conservative Party politicians, they said. In 1999, he pleaded not responsible by reason of insanity.

After a hearing earlier this year, state Supreme Court Justice Elaine Zaritsky Slobod in upstate Goshen ruled last month that Ford must be released from the Mid-Hudson Forensic Psychiatric Center. She wrote that although Ford remains mentally ill, he is not a danger to himself or anyone else.

"He has never directly threatened anyone on the staff at Mid-Hudson, has never been involved in a physical altercation and has never attempted to abscond," Slobod wrote.

Ford's attorneys, Steven Metcalf II and Nanette Ida Metcalf of Manhattan, said they hoped that Ford's mental health would improve in a less secure setting and he eventually could be allowed to be free. 

"He would actually be able to spend time with his family and loved ones in a way that he's not now," Steven Metcalf said.

The Suffolk district attorney's office has always opposed Ford's release from Mid-Hudson.  The office is reviewing the ruling, DA spokeswoman Sheila Kelly said.

Knives, radiation counters and other items taken from John Ford's...

Knives, radiation counters and other items taken from John Ford's home in Bellport are displayed at a news conference by Suffolk officials on June 13, 1996. Credit: Newsday/Karen Wiles Stabile

There is no risk to anyone if Ford some day re-enters society, Metcalf said.

"He is not in any way, shape or form what they tried to make him out to be -- this crazy UFO guy," he said.

Nanette Metcalf said that until this hearing, no one had seriously evaluated whether Ford posed a danger to anyone, which would be the only reason to keep him confined in a secure hospital.

She said it was possible he was confined for so long because of the former notoriety of his case. Ford now is "very competent, capable, calm," she said.

John Ford of Bellport on the way to his arraignment...

John Ford of Bellport on the way to his arraignment on June 13, 1996. Credit: Newsday/Karen Wiles Stabile

Ford was accused of conspiring to use radium to kill then Suffolk Republican Party Chairman John Powell, then Legis. Fred Towle (R-Shirley) and then Brookhaven public safety director Anthony Gazzola. Powell and Gazzola have since died. Towle did not respond to requests for comment.

Ford, at the time, thought "the criminal case against him is in reality an intelligence operation being run by the CIA, together with the Israeli intelligence agency, Mossad," according to one of the psychiatrists who examined him then.

Two co-conspirators, including a Defense Department employee who procured radium for the planned attacks, pleaded guilty to their roles in the conspiracy and were sentenced to prison terms.

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