Harris trial delayed again

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 10, 2004

Westley Devone "D.J." Harris, the man accused of killing six family members in the Town of Rutledge August 26, 2002, was due to be on trial Monday, April 19.

His case has been continued until sometime this summer.

Harris has been in custody ever since his arrest by Crenshaw County deputies on August 29, 2002.

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In a statement issued on Wednesday, April 7, Harris' attorneys, Charlotte Tesmer and Steve Townes, listed the reasons for the continuation.

"The continuation by the court was necessary because the state has not released reports setting out the results of DNA analysis of certain evidence," the statement read. "Additionally, the defense is awaiting the release of a report from the state's psychological expert. The state is required to provide Mr. Harris with these reports sufficiently in advance of trial to allow defense counsel to review the results and prepare a proper response. Defense counsel awaits the release of this evidence and the opportunity to present Mr. Harris' case."

John Andrews, district attorney for the Second Judicial Circuit and lead prosecutor on the case, concurred Wednesday afternoon with the statement from Harris' defense attorneys.

"The case has been continued, but no date has been set yet," Andrews said. "We are primarily waiting for the psychological evaluation report from Dr. Carl Kirkland, whom the state had evaluate Mr. Harris. The defense had hired a man from Tuscaloosa, by the name of Dr. John Goff, Ph. D., for an evaluation, and we had Dr. Kirkland evaluate him on behalf of the state."

Andrews explained that during a capital murder case, the defendant has rights to include filing certain pre-trial motions with the court that prosecutors would not be privy to, because they involve statements made to the defense attorneys by their client.

Andrews said that as far as forensic evidence was concerned n which caused delays in prior court dates n one report was still outstanding.

"We still lack one report having all of the forensic evidence for the case, but it did not hold us up from holding Mr. Harris' trial," Andrews said.

When asked if Harris had ever told prosecutors anything indicating that more than one person was involved in the killings, Andrews said he had not.

"He has never given disclosed anything to any of us that anyone else was involved in the killings," Andrews said.

Regarding the prior requests for a bond hearing, the prosecutor said none had ever been set.

"To my knowledge, the defense team has never requested another bond hearing be set," Andrews said. "We have subpoenaed approximately 40 witnesses in this case n some are agents from the Alabama Bureau of Investigation (ABI) and the Department of Forensic Sciences (DFS), but many are also private citizens. I spoke to two witnesses just recently n last Friday."

"We will have to meet with Circuit Judge Ed McFerrin to set a new trial," said Tesmer during a phone interview on Wednesday. "He (the judge) told us in court Tuesday that he wants to have a conference, and we should be ready to set a new trial date at that time."

Andrews said he felt like mid-to-late summer would be the earliest that a trial date could be set.

"It will probably be July or August when the case will be set for trial," Andrews said.

A review of official files indicated that Harris was originally indicted by a Grand Jury on three separate indictments n case numbers 2002-105, 2002-106 and 2002-107. The first, 02-105, was dismissed Monday in court, and records claim it to be replaced by 2004-36, due to incorrect wording in the original indictment.

Harris is accused of the shooting deaths of six members of his common-law wife Janice Ball's family: Mila Ruth Ball, 65, Joanne Ball, 35, Jerry Ball, 19, Tony Ball, 17, and John Ball, 14, and also Willie Haslip, 41. The murders occurred at two neighboring residences on South Moody Crossroads, in the Town of Rutledge, during what evidence purports to be a period of 24-36 hours, before they were discovered on Monday, Aug. 26, 2002.