Harris trial to open Nov. 3

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 28, 2004

It’s been sit and wait for family members of the six slain in Rutledge on Aug. 26, 2002.

According to family members, the trial of accused murder, Westley Devone Harris, has been delayed five times for various reasons. On Oct. 18, jury selection began at the Crenshaw County Courthouse in Luverne for the capital murder case, but it too has taken longer than expected.

Those family members connected with the trial will have to do what they’ve done best the past two years and wait another week for court proceedings to begin.

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According to Circuit Judge Edward McFerrin, who is presiding over the trial, opening statements will begin on Nov. 3.

&uot;We expect the presentation of testimony to begin next Wednesday,&uot; McFerrin said Tuesday morning. &uot;We’re doing other things right now.&uot;

Harris, 24, is accused of murdering six of his common-law wife, then 16-year-old Janice Denise Ball’s, family members, including 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.

The date for opening statements, initially planned for last week, was moved back as questioning of potential jurors entered a second week on Monday, court officials said.

McFerrin said 250 potential jurors were initially summoned for the trial and of those, 131 were on hand the first day of jury selection. According to court officials, only 96 of those actually went through the jury qualification process.

&uot;We never expected 250 people to show up,&uot; Crenshaw County Circuit Clerk Ann Tate said. &uot;You have some juror summons that are undeliverable, there are some people that are disqualified because they don’t live in the county and there are some people that produce doctors excuses and those types of things and are excused before trial. So there are several categories of dismissal, there are people that are excused, postponed for valid reason, were disqualified or the summon was undeliverable.&uot;

According to Code 12-16-60 of the Alabama State Law, jurors are put through a qualification process, which includes questions regarding their citizenship of the United States and Crenshaw County, verification of age (all jurors must be at least 19-years-old), that each can read, speak and understand the English language and verification that they have not lost their right to vote as a result of a previous felony conviction. Besides the general questions, the potential jurors were also asked more specific questions regarding the case.

McFerrin said an additional 165 potential jurors were summoned late last week, but all were released. He said the jury will be selected from the initial juror pool because a sufficient amount of them qualified to potentially sit on the jury.

McFerrin did not wish to go into any more details regarding the trial.

McFerrin barred all spectators including the relatives of the victims and the media, from the courtroom while District Attorney John Andrews and defense attorney’s Charlotte Tesmer and Stephen Townes questioned potential jurors. His reasoning was based on fire codes.

Tate said this is first capital murder trial in Crenshaw County in the 21 years she has served as circuit clerk. Although it is early to tell how much the murder case will cost the state, each juror pooled receives a $10 expense allowance each day in court and five cents per mile round trip to offset travel costs. The funds are provided by the state.