Harris charged in Rutledge homicides

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 31, 2002

Some 70 hours after the initial call came in to the Crenshaw Central Communications (E-911) reporting six bodies found in Rutledge, one suspect has been charged in the case.

In a late-breaking announcement on Friday evening, Crenshaw County Sheriff Charles West stated that six murder warrants were obtained charging Westley &uot;D.J.&uot; Harris in the shooting deaths earlier this week of six victims n Mila Ruth Ball, 62, who lived in a house on South Moody’s Crossroads, her grandchildren, Joann Ball, 25, who lived in a nearby mobile home; Jerry Ball, 18, Tony Ball, 16, and John Ball 14; and Willie Hasley.

Maj. Ken Hallford, chief of the Alabama Bureau of Investigations, Crenshaw County Sheriff West and District Attorney John Andrews announced on Friday that following an aggressive investigation, Westley &uot;D.J.&uot; Harris and Janice Denise Ball turned themselves in to law enforcement agents on Thursday evening.

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&uot;Westley Harris’ family contacted the Crenshaw County Sheriff’s Department Thursday evening,&uot; said Maj. Hallford. &uot;Through that contact, we were able to work out arrangements with him to have him surrender to agents.&uot;

Hallford said Harris and Ball turned themselves in at a rural location north of Luverne.

&uot;They surrendered to a Crenshaw County deputy and one of my agents at approximately 5:30 p.m. on Thursday,&uot; he said.

Although authorities were concerned about the well being of Ball and her infant child, Hallford said those concerns were put to rest, as both were in good condition.

&uot;Harris was asking not to be put here (Crenshaw County Detention Facility),&uot; Hallford said. &uot;He was concerned for his safety, in fear that some of the victims’ relatives might be incarcerated in Crenshaw County.&uot;

Hallford said that as of 3 p.m. Friday charges had not yet been signed against Harris or Ball. As a matter of Alabama law, individuals may be detained pending further investigation for 72 hours, before being formally charged or released.

&uot;Both Ball and the baby have been placed under the direction of the Department of Human Resources, at the request of District Attorney John Andrews,&uot; Hallford said.

The red-colored Pontiac Grand Am that authorities had been looking for since Tuesday night, and which Harris had reportedly driven, was recovered by the Sheriff’s Department when Harris turned himself in.

According to investigator accounts, the vehicle was hidden from view at the rural location where Harris was picked up, and the right rear tire was punctured, apparently from driving it over a sharp broken tree trunk.

It was taken to the Crenshaw County Detention Facility, where latent fingerprint experts with the Alabama Department of Public Safety could process it for evidence.

Hallford said although investigators have their theory regarding how the incidents took place, the investigation is continuing.

Sources reported that a fingerprint taken from a vehicle at the scene of the crime on South Moody’s Crossroads in Rutledge was a match for Harris.

Harris apparently spent time with a friend in Andalusia the incident in Rutledge, according to Andalusia Police Chief Wilbur Williams, Jr.

Williams said from all the information that has been compiled, Harris may have stayed at a friend's residence near the Church Street Elementary School, in Andalusia on Tuesday night following the murders, and possibly until noon the next Wednesday.

Williams said the suspect apparently sold three weapons at an Andalusia business, but said once the owner of the store realized that the weapons were involved in the alleged slayings, he immediately informed law enforcement officials, and the weapons, according to Williams, have been recovered.

Williams said varying sources have indicated that Harris and his girlfriend acted normally during their stay in Andalusia, although some have said that Janice Ball was extremely quiet, perhaps out of shock or fear.

Although the couple may have left at noon on Wednesday, indications are that Harris was still in telephone contact with friends or acquaintances in Andalusia.

&uot;We are still waiting to see some surveillance video from a local convenience store,&uot; said Williams. &uot;Apparently (Harris) came to Andalusia about 10:30 p.m. after the alleged murders took place and made contact with buddies who live here.

&uot;We did an extensive amount of background work, as we figured we would try to provide as much information as we possibly could to the Crenshaw Sheriff's Department. This was not our case, but we felt an obligation to the public and too often these days there is a lack of a cooperative effort between law enforcement agencies. We are hoping to just provide a little piece of the puzzle, and possibly also provide some information that may be crucial to the overall case,&uot; Williams said.

&uot;Anytime a crime is committed, law enforcement agencies do their job efficiently and appropriately n many dedicated professionals were involved in this case from the time it began,&uot; Andrews said. &uot;I am going to aggressively prosecute any and all suspects in this case n what has been done was a heinous and horrendous act, and resulted in an entire family needlessly and violently losing their lives.&uot;

District Attorney Andrews said he was very much appreciative of the cooperation from all the agencies involved.

Sheriff West too expressed his appreciation for all of the assistance.

&uot;There were more than 50 law enforcement professionals involved in this case since it began,&uot; West said. &uot;This is nothing less that good old-fashioned investigative techniques, by dedicated professionals.&uot;

West said citizens of Crenshaw County are fortunate that our state has the resource of the Alabama Bureau of Investigations.

&uot;If not for the ABI and their 96 agents with mobile crime investigation units, small areas such as ours would not be able to have major crime scenes processed like bigger cities can,&uot; West said.

Hallford said the ABI’s mission is to assist smaller counties and communities that, because of limited financial resources do not have the ability to operate specialized investigative units.

&uot;We are fortunate to have four such units in operation right now, with two more already ordered,&uot; Hallford said. &uot;The vans, which cost approximately $60,000 equipped, have been made available by the awarding of federal grants.&uot;

The slayings in Crenshaw are being termed as one of the worst multiple homicides in the history of the state.

Stan J. Griffin, staff writer for the Andalusia Star-News contributed to this article.