GALLIPOLIS — The Fourth District Court of Appeals has affirmed the trial court’s decision on a Gallia County man convicted and sentenced in 2012 to life in prison for the murder of Betsy Ball.
Lee A. Hawkins, 49, of Bidwell, is currently being held in the Ross Correctional Institution serving a life sentence without eligibility for parole after being found guilty by a jury in October 2012 of aggravated murder, tampering with evidence and the gross abuse of a corpse.
Gallia County assistant prosecutors Eric Mulford and Britt Wiseman, who represented the state of Ohio in the appeal, reported Tuesday that the court of appeals upheld the decision of Gallia County Common Pleas Court, including the imposition of court costs against Hawkins.
“This case serves as a reminder that our responsibility as prosecuting attorneys doesn’t end with a guilty verdict and sentencing,” Mulford said. “Almost every case that goes to trial is challenged on appeal. We are very pleased that the defendant has not only been held accountable for the murder of Mrs. Ball with a life sentence without the possibility of parole, but has also been judged responsible for the payment of the court costs associated with his trial.”
Hawkins was arrested March 13, 2012, after he was identified as suspect in the murder of Ball on Feb. 29, 2012.
The defendant killed Ball, 67, at her home on Wilder Road home, then raped, mutilated and dumped her body at a nearby farm along Piper Road.
The victim was reported missing by her family during the early morning hours of March 1, and her body was later found by law enforcement officials where it had been dumped in a field on Piper Road.
Hawkins, who pleaded not guilty on March 19, 2012, and maintained his innocence throughout the trial, was found guilty on Oct. 9, 2012, of murdering Ball following a six-day jury trial.
During sentencing one week later, Common Pleas Judge D. Dean Evans handed down a life sentence without parole eligibility for the charge of aggravated murder, and a 36-month sentence for tampering with evidence.
Tampering with evidence and the gross abuse of a corpse were found to be allied offenses — or offenses that could have been committed by the same actions of the defendant — and were merged for the purposes of sentencing.
A notice of appeal was filed in January 2013 and, within his appeal, Hawkins maintained that the trial court had abused its discretion when it sentenced him because Hawkins had “lived a primarily law-abiding life,” is a “quiet, hard-working, decent person” and that his actions against the victim were “an aberration from his normal, quiet self.” His appeal also questioned whether Hawkins was deprived of his constitutional right of effective assistance of counsel, as well as whether he is indigent and can pay court costs.
According to the decision and judgment entry filed and signed by Marie Hoover, judge with the Fourth District Court of Appeals of the Ohio Supreme Court, the court found that, as pursuant to the Ohio Revised Code, a sentence imposed for aggravated murder is not subject to review by a court of appeals and, as such, the appeals court “lacks the authority to review Hawkins’ sentence on an evidentiary basis,” and, thus, this portion of his appeal was overruled by the court.
In relation to whether Hawkins received effective counsel at trial, the court of appeals upheld that in Ohio, there is the “presumption that a properly licensed attorney is competent” and that although Hawkins’ ability to pay court costs is suspect, the court determined that it “cannot conclude that a reasonable probability exists that Hawkins would have been found indigent had his counsel raised the issue. Consequently, we cannot find that trial counsel’s performance was constitutionally ineffective for failing to raise the issue.”
The decision entry further affirms the trial court’s judgment.