Harris v. State

Decision Date09 July 2021
Docket NumberCR-19-0231
PartiesWestley Devone Harris v. State of Alabama
CourtAlabama Court of Criminal Appeals

Notice: This opinion is subject to formal revision before publication in the advance sheets of Southern Reporter. Readers are requested to notify the Reporter of Decisions, Alabama Appellate Courts, 300 Dexter Avenue, Montgomery, Alabama 36104-3741 ((334) 229-0649), of any typographical or other errors, in order that corrections may be made before the opinion is printed in Southern Reporter.

Appeal from Crenshaw Circuit Court

(CC-02-106.60; CC-02-107.60; and CC-04-36.60)

KELLUM, Judge.

The appellant, Westley Devone Harris, appeals the circuit court's summary dismissal of his petition for postconviction relief filed pursuant to Rule 32, Ala. R. Crim. P., in which he attacked his capital-murder convictions and sentence of death.1

Facts and Procedural History

In June 2005, Harris was convicted of four counts of capital murder for murdering Mila Ruth Ball, John Ball, Joanne Ball, and Tony Ball during the course of a burglary and one count of capital murder for murdering six victims -- Mila Ruth Ball, Willie Haslip, Joanne Ball, Jerry Ball, Tony Ball, and John Ball -- pursuant to one scheme or course of conduct. The jury recommended, by a vote of 7 to 5, that Harris be sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. The trial court overrode the jury's recommendation and sentenced Harris to death.2This Court affirmed Harris's convictions and death sentence on direct appeal. Harris v. State, 2 So. 3d 880 (Ala. Crim. App. 2007). The Alabama Supreme Court denied certiorari review, and this Court issued a certificate of judgment on August 15, 2008. The United States Supreme Court subsequently denied certiorari review. Harris v. Alabama, 555 U.S. 1155 (2009).

In our opinion affirming Harris's convictions and sentence, this Court set out the facts surrounding the six murders:

"The evidence adduced at trial tended to show the following. Mila Ruth Ball, 65, was the matriarch of a family that lived on a farm in Moody's Crossroads in Crenshaw County. Her daughter, Joanne, 35, was married to Willie Haslip, 40; they lived in a trailer on the farm with their three sons, Jerry Ball, 19, Tony Ball, 17, and John Ball, 14. Joanne and Willie also had a daughter, Janice Ball, 16, who lived with her grandmother Mila Ruth in the house at the farm.
"Janice was 14 years old when she met then-19-year-old Harris. Three months after the two met, Janice became pregnant, and the two had a daughter, Neshay, whom they called 'Shay.' Janice testified that when she told Harris she was pregnant, she did not see him much until Shay was born. Then, Janice said, she and Harris lived together in a trailer in Luverne. Harris became 'violent,' Janice said, so she moved back home to the farm and lived with her grandmother in the house. (R. 7421-22.)
"Her father, Willie, then bought a trailer and put it on the farm because, Janice said, he wanted her and Harris 'to stay together for he wanted him to kind of take care of his own baby and just have a family together.' (R. 7422.) Janice testified that she and Harris lived together in the trailer her father had bought 'off and on' because Harris was 'still violent and controlling.' (R. 7423.)
"On Friday, August 23, 2002, Janice said, she and Harris were in the trailer Willie had bought for them. Janice asked Harris to pay her back some money he had borrowed from her so that she could buy Shay some diapers. Janice said Harris refused to give her any money and slapped her. She threw a telephone at him and told him to pack his belongings and leave.
"Their argument took them outside, where Janice's brother Jerry saw them. He got a shotgun for Janice, and she admitted that she held the gun on Harris, but then gave it back to Jerry. Harris left the farm that night. Janice stayed in Mila Ruth's house.
"The next day, Saturday, Harris called Janice at the McDonald's restaurant where she worked and asked her whether her family planned to press charges against him. Janice did not answer his question. On the following day, Harris again called Janice to see whether she or her family were planning to press charges against him. Again, Janice did not answer his question.
"That evening, Harris came back to Mila Ruth's house at the Ball farm to speak with Janice. Janice said that Harris sat on the porch while she stayed inside the house and talked with Harris through the screen door. Janice said she then went to the bedroom to tell Mila Ruth that Harris was there. MilaRuth went to the door and told Harris she was going to have him arrested and that she was going to call Janice's father over. Harris started backing up, Janice said, and told Mila Ruth 'that he didn't want any trouble.' (R. 7444.) Mila Ruth called Willie, and he, Joanne, and Janice's brothers Jerry and John came over to Mila Ruth's house from their trailer. Janice said Willie and Jerry had shotguns with them. Harris had already left the porch, but Willie shouted out for him to leave the farm before he got hurt. (R. 7444.) Harris left the farm, and Janice and her family went back inside their respective homes and went to bed. Janice shared a bedroom with Mila Ruth.
"The next morning, Monday, Janice awoke about 8:30 when her bed was shaking. Shay was in bed with her. Janice said she heard the lock on the kitchen door, then heard some mumbling that she could not make out. Then, she said, she saw her grandmother, Mila Ruth, 'walking back into the bedroom and Westly [Harris] had a shotgun pointed to her stomach.' (R. 7449.)
"Harris made Janice and Mila Ruth move into the kitchen and made Mila Ruth get on the floor. He handed Janice a roll of tape and told her to use it to tie Mila Ruth's hands. Janice said after she finished, Harris snatched the tape away from her and, while resting the gun between his legs, he tied Mila Ruth's hands tightly with the tape. Harris told Mila Ruth that 'it was going to be a lot better without her now.' (R. 7451.) Harris then taped Janice's hands together.
"Harris told Mila Ruth that she needed to say her prayers. As Mila Ruth began saying the Lord's prayer, Harris shot her in the face with a shotgun.
"Harris made Janice go back to the bedroom, and he bound her to one of the beds with a telephone line and an extension cord. He placed some toys on the bed for Shay and put Shay up on the bed with Janice. He then asked Janice what time her brother Tony usually got up and came over to Mila Ruth's house. Janice told him that Tony usually came over about noon or 12:30 p.m. Tony was the only other person at the farm at that time.
"Harris left Mila Ruth's house. Janice said she heard the shotgun go off again, then she heard the front door to the house open. Harris came into the bedroom, cocked the shotgun so that a shell came out, then threw it on Janice, saying, 'That was your brother.' (R. 7466.) Evidence showed that Tony died of a gunshot wound to the back of his head while he was still in bed.
"After shooting Tony and coming back into Mila Ruth's house, Harris took Shay into the living room of Mila Ruth's house and watched television. Janice was still tied to the bed. She said Harris would come check on her periodically and told her he would not hurt her if she 'didn't try nothing stupid.' (R. 7467.)
"At about 3:30 that afternoon, Janice said, she heard her brother Jerry's car pull up in the yard. As usual, Jerry had brought John home from Luverne Middle School, then went back to work. Janice was still tied up on the bed and, by this time, Harris had gagged her with a towel. Harris left Mila Ruth's house, but then Janice heard the door open again and she heard Harris say, 'Get over there.' (R. 7472.) The shotgun went off again, and Janice heard something fall.
"The evidence indicated that, when Jerry pulled away after dropping off John, Harris went over to the trailer whereJohn lived. The State posited that John put up a fight with Harris because his autopsy showed that he had suffered two gunshot wounds from the pistol, one of which lodged in his spine and would have caused paralysis. After shooting John twice, Harris somehow got John back to Mila Ruth's house, where John was shot once in the eye with a shotgun. John's body was discovered next to Mila Ruth's in the kitchen at Mila Ruth's house.
"About 4:00 p.m., a half-hour after John was killed, Janice said, she heard her father's pickup truck pull up in the yard. She said she watched through the window as Willie drove to the back of the yard. Harris was in the room with her. He had told Janice he would kill her if she tried to warn Willie. When the truck went by, Janice said, Harris took a shotgun and a pistol and left the house. She said she did not hear a gunshot, but she did hear the truck start again. It pulled up next to her grandmother's house and stopped, then Harris came back inside holding a shotgun.
"Haslip's body was discovered under a piece of metal in the hog pen. He, too, had been shot in the face with a shotgun.
"After shooting Haslip, Harris came back into Mila Ruth's house and cut the bonds holding Janice to the bed. He told Janice to get Shay a bottle and a pacifier, then had them climb out the bedroom window. Harris was still carrying a shotgun, and he told Janice he would shoot her if she tried to run. Janice said she did not try to get away when Harris climbed out the window because she was holding Shay. Harris led [Janice] to the trailer where her parents and brothers lived.
"At about 5:30 or 5:45 that evening, Janice said, her mother, Joanne, came home. Harris told Janice that if shetried to warn her mother, he would shoot Janice. Harris, armed with a shotgun, sat down in a chair that would be behind the front door when the door was opened. When Joanne came into the trailer, Janice said, she saw Harris, looked at Janice, then walked into the living room. She asked Janice where Tony was, and Harris told her to get on her knees. Joanne looked at

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