Jury selection begins for Harris trial

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 29, 2005

Jury selection started on Monday for the re-trial of Westley Devon Harris, the Crenshaw County man accused of killing six of his girlfriend's family members.

Circuit Judge Edward McFerrin barred all but potential jurors, three members of the family and two representatives of the state media from the proceedings. Media were allowed to rotate inside the courtroom during breaks. Jury selection is expected to continue throughout this week, with opening arguments slated to begin next Tuesday.

Harris stands accused of murdering six relatives of Janice Ball, his former girlfriend, 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.

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The case is the largest capital murder trial in Crenshaw County history.

Over 400 prospective jurors were interviewed on Monday and Tuesday by defense attorney Charlotte Tesmer and Assistant Attorney General Don Valeska, who replaced District Attorney John Andrews as lead prosecutor. Jurors also completed questionnaires.

One potential juror, who wished to remain anonymous, said court officials told him he would need to return today for additional questioning.

"They said Wednesday would be the day they start striking the jury," he said.

McFerrin, who chose not to step down from the case following November's mistrial, said it is likely the jury would be sequestered this time. Jury tampering led to McFerrin's declaring a mistrial two weeks into testimony in the original trial. Juror Willie Fred Johnson, 49, and Teresa Rogers, 35, were arrested amid charges of perjury and tampering, bringing a halt to the trial of Harris.

Should the jury be sequestered, they would be placed in an area hotel, possibly in Troy, and their contact with family members limited.

Ball was also present for the jury questioning. She was in court only two days for testimony during the previous trial.