The much-anticipated trial of accused murderer Westley Devone Harris got under way Monday morning at the Crenshaw County Courthouse in Luverne with the questioning of potential jurors.
Harris, 24, who is accused of the Aug. 26, 2002 slaying of six of his common-law wife, then 16-year-old Janice Denise Ball's, family members in Rutledge, was on hand for jury selection that will continue today.
Circuit Judge Edward McFerrin barred all spectators including the relatives of the victims and the media, from the courtroom while attorneys questioned the 131 potential jurors for the capital murder trial. At the end of day Monday, over 90 jurors remained to be questioned and by late afternoon Tuesday only a handful of those had been struck. No other information was available following McFerrin's decision for a gag order Tuesday.
McFerrin's decision was based on capacity restrictions set forth by state fire marshals. The decision still upset members of the victims' family.
"It's awful," Greenville's Dorothy Maye said while sitting outside the courthouse late Tuesday evening. "Some how or another they should have let the family members in there. All we can do now is sit here, wait and pray. Hopefully they'll come out with good news. The quicker, the better."
Maye, whose younger brother was killed, along with Myra Ball, whose mother-in-law, sister-in-law and nephews were murdered, said the trial had been delayed five times previously. They both expressed relief that the trial has finally begun.
"Now that the trial has started, maybe we can pick up the pieces and move on," Maye said. "I'm glad it's fixing to come to an end."
Family members said they are hoping that Harris will receive the death penalty.
"He killed them, so what else is left," Ball said. "He didn't think they deserved to live, so I don't think he deserves to live."
Maye echoed Ball's sentiments.
"He deserves the death penalty," she said. "He took the lives of six people and when you do something like that you have a lot of time to think before you do it."
Authorities have yet to reveal a motive for the shooting deaths of Mila Ruth Ball, 62; her daughter, JoAnn Ball, 35; JoAnn's common-law husband, Willie Hasley, 40, who also went by the name Willie Haslip; and their sons, Jerry Ball, 19, Tony Ball, 17, and John Ball, 14.
"It's going to be hard each day," Maye said. "I wonder why he did this. Without the grace of God and the people that have supported us, we couldn't have made it."
District Attorney John Andrews and defense attorney's Charlotte Tesmer and Stephen Townes were unavailable for comment due to the closed-door, jury selection process.