McFerrin sentences Harris to death

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 29, 2005

With a boom of thunder from the skies above almost at the time of the sentence, Westley Devon Harris learned that he will die by lethal injection for the execution-style murders of the Ball family.

Circuit Judge H. Edward McFerrin imposed the sentence, going against the jury's recommendation of life without parole.

"My job is not whether to override the jury's verdict or sustain it," McFerrin told Harris, who stood before him in the Crenshaw County Courthouse with his defense attorneys, Stephen Townes and Charlotte Tesmer.

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"It is not an easy decision because of my own personal beliefs."

McFerrin then told Harris that under Alabama law he would die by lethal injection and the Alabama Supreme Court will set the date.

The judge was referring to the fact that the jury in the trial recommended life in prison for the murder of six in 2002.

The judge referenced that the recommendation was not unanimous noting that five jurors out of 12 voted to put him to death.

The State Attorney General's office prosecuted the case, announcing from the beginning of the trial that it was seeking the death penalty for Harris.

On Friday, Attorney General Troy King and his security entourage swooped in the courtroom to hear McFerrin's decision.

"The promise of true justice was realized today when Westley Harris was sentenced to die for the worst mass murder in Alabama in modern times," King said in a prepared statement.

"Three years ago this month, Harris systematically executed the family of Janice Ball, killing both her parents, her three brothers and her grandmother, while holding the 16-year-old girl and their 17-month-old daughter captive.

He earned the death penalty with his savagery as he terrorized the Crenshaw County family over a period of eight hours and murdered his victims, one by one in a day-long killing spree, by shooting them in the face."

The trial revealed that Harris shot the six as each came home that day.

King said the brutality deserved the death sentence.

"This case cried out for a sanction commensurate with the wickedness and brutality of his actions, and the penalty of death is the only just and proper answer to the evil Harris unleashed on August 26, 2002," he said. "On behalf of the citizens of Alabama, I thank Judge McFerrin for carrying out his solemn duty in this case.

We remember the victims of Westley Harris:

65-year old Mila Ruth Ball, grandmother of Janice Ball; 35-year-old Joanne Ball and 40-year-old Willie Haslip, Janice's parents; and her brothers, 14-year-old John, 17-year-old Tony, and 19-year-old Jerry."

Judicial Circuit District Attorney John Andrews was also pleased with the death sentence after exiting Judge McFerrin's chambers after the hearing.

"I just told Judge McFerrin that I sympathized with him because I know this was not an easy decision for him," he said.

"It was not the judge who sentenced Harris today.

The State of Alabama and its laws set this sentence long ago."

He went on to say that in his opinion, Harris was the guiltiest man he has ever had to prosecute.

"He is the most guilty man I've known in my life," Andrews said.

He also said the gossip and innuendoes surrounding the case could never stop the facts from coming out and that he hopes this offers those involved some closure.

"I hope this brings the Ball family some sense of peace, but I also hope it brings some peace to the Harris family as well," he said.