Ala. Man Charged in Family’s Murder
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RUTLEDGE, Ala. _ A man was charged Friday with capital murder in the slayings of six members of his teenage girlfriend’s family at their isolated homestead.
Westley Devone Harris, 22, is accused of killing his girlfriend’s three teenage brothers along with her mother, father and grandmother, authorities said. The rampage stunned and frightened the south Alabama crossroads community where they lived.
The six charges of capital murder carry a possible death sentence.
Harris and his girlfriend, Janice Denise Ball, 16, were both sought for questioning after the first bodies were found Tuesday night. They turned themselves in to authorities Thursday evening.
Harris, a high school dropout with a crack cocaine case pending against him, remained at the jail in adjoining Lowndes County.
Ball is considered a witness and was in the care of welfare officials along with their 1 1/2-year-old 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. Their sister Janice also lived at the homestead with her baby.
Coleman Ball, whose mother and sister were among the victims, said it appeared the killings occurred Monday evening. He said his mother was shot to death at the kitchen sink near a chicken she apparently was about to prepare for that night’s meal.
Coleman Ball 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.
Several weapons were recovered, but state police Lt. Loyd Arrington would not say what kinds of weapons or whether they were used in the shootings.
The crime at the homes about 40 miles south of Montgomery is one of the worst multiple-victim homicides on record in the state. 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 were able to enter the small, tin-roofed home and nearby trailer Friday afternoon to retrieve life insurance policies and other paperwork needed for a funeral planned for Wednesday at an area high school.
Relatives said they had heard talk of trouble between Harris and his girlfriend’s parents but had not personally witnessed any.
Roger Hasley, brother of Willie Hasley, said there were no signs of a struggle by the victims. ``They were surprised,″ he said.
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 as they entered for the first time the house and trailer on the tree-shaded lot that Mila Ruth Ball had rented since 1988. 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.″