Jury tampering leads to mistrial

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Another twist was added in Crenshaw County's biggest murder case earlier this week.

Circuit Judge Edward McFerrin declared a mistrial Monday afternoon in the capital murder trial of Westley Devone Harris, after over two weeks of testimony, when allegations of jury tampering were brought to his attention.

Juror Willie Fred Johnson, 49, was arrested and charged with felony perjury after being questioned by agents with the Alabama Bureau of Investigation (ABI). Teresa Rogers, 35, of Luverne, allegedly contacted Johnson regarding the case. She was arrested on Friday on two counts of jury tampering, a Class B misdemeanor, and released on bond Monday from the Crenshaw County Jail.

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The mistrial angers Crenshaw County District Attorney John Andrews.

"I feel cheated for both families," he said. "We've all got a lot of time involved. It's one of those things that shouldn't have happened except for that juror. I hope he regrets it."

The order issued by McFerrin read: "Mistrial granted due to jury tampering charges that may have resulted in improper influences of jurors or juror misconduct or other juror disqualifications."

Andrews said that he was tipped off last week of the possibility that there may have been a weak link in the jury, so he looked into it.

"One of my assistance found out," Andrews said. "I asked him to do me a favor and he found out that we had somebody that was messing with the jury."

After discovering that the tampering had occurred, Andrews brought it to McFerrin's attention.

"The judge (McFerrin) had to put it on the record in front of the defendant (Harris) and his attorneys," Andrews said. "That's when we recessed Friday at noon to allow us to get ABI in to do an investigation. He didn't have any choice, but to declare a mistrial."

Andrews said Johnson will be tried for perjury, which is a Class C felony.

"He faces up to 10 years in the penitentiary," Andrews said.

Harris, 24, is accused of killing six of his ex-girlfriend, 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.

According to court officials, Harris can be tried for the same charges at a later date. As of now, the case is still pending.

As for the Harris' next appearance before the court, Andrews said other responsibilities will hold up the start of a new trial for several months.

"We will start when we get time," Andrews said. "We were supposed to start Butler County criminal trials yesterday (Monday). Of course, we had to move those and they haven't been reset. The week after next, we start Lowndes County trials that were pushed back due to Hurricane Ivan. So we're just all out of kilter right now. It will take a while to catch up."

Andrews said it is a possibility that Harris could go back to trial as early as the spring of 2005. He also stated that they plan to attempt to hold the trial in Crenshaw County.

"The citizens of Crenshaw County certainly can give him (Harris) a fair trial," Andrews said. "We just had two people that tried to influence justice and they're going to pay for it."

McFerrin declined to comment due to the ongoing nature of the case.

Defensive attorney Charlotte Tesmer couldn't be reached after repeated attempts.