King urges death penalty for Harris

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 3, 2005

Attorney General Troy King urged the court to sentence Westley Devon Harris to death for the August 2002 murders of six people at a family farm in Rutledge.

Despite the defense's objection to his presence during Monday's pre-sentencing hearing, King asked Circuit Judge Edward McFerrin to override a jury's recommendation of life-without-parole following Harris' conviction in June.

"The eyes of Alabama are on this county," said King. "Those of the victims' families and those who believe in justice. If the death penalty is warranted it's in this case. The jury's recommendation is just that – a recommendation only."

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McFerrin heard arguments from the defense and prosecution on Monday. He said he would deliver his sentence on Harris within the next few weeks.

Harris was found guilty of the capital murder 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.

Janice Ball, Harris' former girlfriend and witness to his shooting spree on Aug. 26, 2002, said Harris should be put to death.

"He needs to get what he deserves," she said. "You don't take someone's life unless you want your own taken."

Ball, who has a four-year-old daughter by Harris, watched as he systematically murdered her family three years ago and was the prosecution's chief witness during the trial. The jury disregarded the defense's attempts to paint Ball as a willing accomplice to the murders and delivered a unanimous guilty verdict against Harris.

Prior to Monday's proceedings, Defense Attorney Steve Townes asked McFerrin to disallow King's appearance, saying that while the Attorney General's office prosecuted Harris, King himself had no personal involvement in the case.

"His appearance here is to put political pressure on this court to override the jury's recommendation," said Townes.

King said he has been involved since his office was asked to take over the prosecution of Harris. He told McFerrin he regretted that his schedule didn't allow him a chance to come to the trial.

As for his reason for being at the hearing, King said:

"I don't believe I should send my prosecutors to ask for the death penalty if I'm not willing to come myself," he said.

King said he was "surprised, disappointed" but not shocked when the jury delivered its 7-5 vote that Harris should be imprisoned for life.

"I'm grateful to the jury because they performed their civic duty," said King. "It was a difficult decision. The fact that some wept when the verdict was read says enough. Jurors are ordinary citizens, just like you and me. It was a very onerous burden to place on the jury."

Townes said the jury's recommendation should be respected.

"I think we should uphold the trust we placed in the citizens of Crenshaw County," he said. "We should uphold their recommendation and give it the weight it deserves. The recommendation came from their hard work, their sacrifice and they made it as a whole."