Judge to decide fate of Harris

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 29, 2005

The jury in the Westley Devon Harris murder trial recommended life in prison without parole after convicting him of the slayings of six of his then-girlfriend's family members.

The decision was contentious, with five jurors voting to give Harris the death penalty and seven voting against.

The jury's decision is a recommendation only. Under Alabama law, Circuit Judge Edward McFerrin can sentence Harris to die by lethal injection.

Harris was found guilty of the six murders, which took place in August 2002. The State Attorney General's office prosecuted the case, announcing from the beginning of the trial that it was seeking the death penalty for Harris.

On Friday, Attorney General Troy King asked McFerrin to override the jury's decision and sentence Harris to die.

"Those entrusted with obtaining justice must now do their duty," King told the Associated Press. "We must impose a sanction commensurate with the wickedness and brutality of this killing spree. If ever the death penalty was warranted, it is in this case of the worst mass murder in Alabama in modern times."

Prosecutors described Harris as controlling and domineering over Janice Ball, his girlfriend at the time of the murders and the mother of his 17-month-old child. The prosecution said Harris' motive for committing the murders was because Ball's grandmother, Mila Ruth Ball, and mother, JoAnn Ball, were keeping him from seeing Janice. Also slain were 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.

"If this isn't capital murder in the State of Alabama, what is?" Assistant Attorney General Don Valeska asked members of the jury during closing arguments on Monday.

During the sentencing phase, the defense asked the jury for mercy, citing Harris' low score on an IQ test and testimony from psychologist Dr. John Goff that Harris' reading level was in the lower 'three to five percent of the population.' The defense also cited mental retardation, but McFerrin did not allow it for consideration by the jury as reason not to impose the death penalty.

A preliminary sentencing hearing is scheduled for July 13.