#039;We got justice#039;

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 17, 2005

Harris found guilty of Ball family murders

By Kevin Pearcey

Journal Editor

Jurors in the Westley Devon Harris capital murder trial deliberated a little under eight hours before finding him guilty of killing six people in August 2002.

Three jurors wept as the verdict was read, but the jury was unanimous in its decision that Harris killed six members of then-girlfriend Janice Ball's family on Aug. 26, 2002.

"We got justice," said Coleman Ball on the steps of the Crenshaw County Courthouse following the verdict. Ball is brother to JoAnn Ball, one of those murdered by Harris during a daylong massacre at the Ball family compound. Also slain Mila Ruth Ball, 62; JoAnn's common-law husband, Willie Hasley, 40; and their sons, Jerry Ball, 19, Tony Ball, 17, and John Ball, 14. All were killed by shotgun blasts to the head.

Janice Ball was the prosecution's key witness during the trial, although Harris' defense depicted her as a willing accomplice during the killing spree. In closing arguments on Monday, Assistant Attorney General William Dill called Ball 'noble' and Lead Prosecutor Don Valeska referred to Harris as a 'coward' numerous times while addressing the jury.

"Don't let them (the defense) pull the wool over your eyes," Valeska told the jury, referring to the defense's argument that a conspiracy by agents with the Alabama Bureau of Investigation had targeted Harris as the lone killer. The defense even alleged that agents had omitted evidence suggesting Harris had an accomplice.

Dill exhibited enlarged and graphic photos of Harris' victims.

"These were human beings," he said. "They loved. They had dreams and aspirations. Human life is precious. And he (Harris) cared nothing for them."

Prosecutors said Harris killed the Ball family because they had tried to keep him away from Ball, the mother of his 17-month-old-daughter.

Harris' family members remain convinced of Ball's involvement.

"I know it's the wrong verdict," said Ida Harris, Harris' mother. "She (Ball) knows she's involved. Janice is the key to all of this."

Harris' aunt Alice May Robinson, angered about the outcome, said "God is going to get her (Ball) for the lies she told."

"What person in their right mind is going to let their family get killed while they watch?" said Robinson. "I know I wouldn't."

Ida Harris said she was able to speak to her son following the verdict and that he remained in "good spirits."

"He's in better spirits then I am," she said.

Prosecutors rested their case against Harris last Thursday.

The defense opened its case with testimony from Crenshaw County Investigator Robin Daniels. Daniels, when asked by Defense Attorney Steve Townes if there were other suspects beside Harris, replied that it was his opinion that 'Janice Ball needed additional investigation.' On Friday, Ronnie White, a fellow investigator with the sheriff's department confirmed Daniels' testimony and said he and Harris had numerous conversations in which Harris told him of Ball's involvement. Harris, said White, told him that he staged the crime scene to protect Ball about a week or two after Harris was formally charged.

Assistant Attorney General William Dill, in cross-examination, dismissed Daniels' opinion, stating that it was Daniels' first homicide case as an investigator and alleged White was angry because the ABI had taken over the case. White said his testimony had nothing to do with his feelings towards the ABI and said he reported his conversations with Harris to the ABI investigators. In rebuttal testimony, four ABI agents testified that White had said nothing his and Harris' conversations. Valeska told the jury during closing arguments that White had been trained to 'write things' down. If there was no written record 'it didn't happen' argued Valeska.

Valeska said the verdict amounted to vindication for investigators and local prosecutors, long criticized for not bringing a stronger case against Harris in November when Circuit Judge Edward McFerrin was forced to declare a mistrial on the grounds of jury tampering.

McFerrin took no chances for the re-trial. The jury has been sequestered for the last three weeks in Troy.

"We want to thank the agents of the ABI and District Attorney John Andrews in their help with this case," said Valeska. Andrews originally prosecuted the case but stepped down and allowed the state to intercede.

Sentencing for Harris started on Wednesday and is expected to conclude today.

The prosecution is seeking the death penalty.