Ala. Man Charged in Farm Massacre
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RUTLEDGE, Ala. (AP) _ A 22-year-old man is accused of gunning down his teenage girlfriend’s family at their Alabama farm this week in one of the worst killing sprees in state history.
Westley Devone Harris was charged with murder Friday in the deaths of his girlfriend’s parents, grandmother and three teenage brothers, authorities said. He could face the death penalty if convicted.
The rampage stunned and frightened the south Alabama crossroads community where the victims lived. Janice Denise Ball, 16, and her 1 1/2-year-old daughter were reported missing after the slayings.
She and Harris turned themselves in to authorities Thursday evening.
Harris, a high school dropout with a crack cocaine case pending against him, remained in jail in nearby Lowndes County.
Ball is considered a witness and was in the care of welfare officials along with their daughter, said Maj. Ken Hallford, chief of the Alabama Bureau of Investigation. Both were in good physical condition.
Authorities declined to comment on a motive or exactly when the slayings occurred.
Some of the victims were last seen Monday. Bodies of the victims were found Tuesday and Wednesday: Two at the farmhouse, two in a nearby mobile home, one at a hog pen, one in the trunk of a car.
Slain were Mila Ruth Ball, 62; her daughter, Joann Ball, 35; Willie Hasley, 40, the husband of Joann Ball; and their three sons _ Jerry Ball, 18, Tony Ball, 16, and John Ball, 14.
Coleman Ball, whose mother and sister were among the victims, said he was relieved Janice Ball was viewed only as a witness. ``I had just prayed to God that she didn’t have nothing to do with this tragedy,″ he said.
Harris requested that he be held in Lowndes County out of fear that there would be relatives or friends of the slain family at the Crenshaw County Jail, Hallford said.
Relatives said they had heard talk of trouble between Harris and his girlfriend’s parents but had not personally witnessed any.
According to court records, Harris was arrested Nov. 2 for distribution of crack cocaine and was released on $5,000 bond. In March, he was accused of having a stolen pit-bull chained to the trailer he shared with his girlfriend on the Ball property, but the charge was dropped after the dog was returned to its owner.
Relatives of the family were somber Friday as they entered the house and trailer for the first time to retrieve life insurance policies and other paperwork needed for a funeral planned for Wednesday at a high school. Chickens pecked around the yard. Hogs and piglets looked on behind a fence.
A niece of the grandmother, Aberdean Johnson of Stone Mountain, Ga., almost fainted as she emerged from the house.
``I’m just numb,″ she said. ``I’m looking for answers and there are no answers.″