Defense questions ABI agent#039;s motives

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 3, 2005

An ABI agent was questioned by the defense about his motives for not recording accused killer Westley Devon Harris's initial statement to law enforcement officials following the murders of the Ball family in August 2002.

Raymond Smith, a retired agent with the Alabama Bureau of Investigation and lead investigator at the time, said on Friday that much of what Harris said during his first interview with the defendant was not important to the actual investigation.

"So anything else the defendant said during that time is lost?" Asked defense attorney Steve Townes.

Smith replied that it was and was asked by Townes why he had chosen not to tape record his and Harris' conversation, especially considering the magnitude of the case. Smith said it was his choice to write the statement and said he wrote down 'certain things' as Harris said them.

Smith has been a main target of the defense. On Tuesday, the defense accused Smith of omitting evidence that conflicted his theory of Harris being the killer. Friday, the defense attacked Smith's management of the crime scene, including his crime log that accounts for all persons entering and exiting the crime scene.

Townes asked Smith on Friday if he ever threatened Harris with the death penalty. Smith said he hadn't.

Shannon Fitzgerald, a qualified expert in fingerprint examination, testified that finger and palm prints found on the trunk of a tan Corsica at the Ball family compound and a red Pontiac Grand Am, driven by Harris in the days following the murders, matched those of the defendant. Fitzgerald stated that he actually lifted the prints off the Corsica, as well as a number of different prints from inside the house.

On Thursday the defense and prosecution locked horns over two witnesses for the state, longtime friends of the accused.

Greg Daniels and A.J. Robinson testified that Harris delivered guns to them in the days following the murder of six members of Janice Ball's family, Harris' then-girlfriend.

Daniels testified that Harris gave him three rifles, firearms allegedly stolen by the defendant from the Ball family compound after the murders. He said he later hid the rifles in the woods near his home before turning them over to the agents of the Alabama Bureau of Investigation.

He also stated that Harris told him he had killed the Ball family.

"He said he offed them," Daniels said.

Harris's defense attorney Charlotte Tesmer questioned the credibility of Daniels as a witness, saying that he had given numerous statements to law enforcement about his relationship with Harris in the days following the murders. She also said Daniels had only come forward once it was brought to light that he could be charged with a felony and questioned the validity of his testimony, which she alluded may have been coerced from him by the ABI under threat of prosecution.

"Mr. Daniels, have you told so many stories that you don't know the truth?" She asked Daniels.

Daniels responded that his testimony on Thursday was the truth.

Robinson, a cousin to the defendant, said Harris drove to his home in Luverne and gave him two handguns, but he was unaware at the time that the Ball family had been murdered. He said Ball and her 1-year-old child was also in the car, a red Pontiac Grand Am, with Harris. Robinson also stated he couldn't remember any words he and Harris had shared, even when lead prosecutor Don Valeska read aloud a statement given by Robinson to ABI Agent Barry Tucker in which he said Harris had told him, 'this may be the last time you see me.'

Tucker confirmed Robinson's statement during testimony later in the day.

Robinson said three days after receiving the firearms he threw them into the woods by Thomas Ave. in Luverne. When questioned by Tucker and the ABI, Robinson said he alerted them to the location of the two handguns. A search by the ABI, Luverne Police Department, Luverne Fire Department and Crenshaw County Sheriff's Department later recovered the firearms.

Under cross-examination Tesmer asked Robinson if Ball acted any differently when her and Harris stopped by his home that day, noting that Robinson's home was a 'stone's throw' from the Luverne Police Department.

"She acted normal," said Robinson. "She stayed in the car."

"Did she ask for your help?" Asked Tesmer.

"No," said Robinson.

The state also introduced forensic evidence, including DNA samples from the victims and from the defendant.

Testimony in the capital murder trial continues on Monday.