GALLIPOLIS — “She was the best person that I’ve ever known. She had a big heart, was a good Christian person and was just kind — kind to everyone,” David Ball said of his late wife, Betsy Ball, during the second day of trial in the case against the man accused in her murder.
“She just tried to enjoy life and tried to make other enjoy life also,” he said. “You couldn’t beat her. She was one-of-a-kind.”
Ball was the first witness called to the stand by the prosecution on Tuesday in the Gallia County Court of Common Pleas.
Ball discussed what he observed the day of his wife’s disappearance on February 29 and the days following.
Lee A. Hawkins, 48, Bidwell, stands accused in the murder of Betsy Ball, 67, and is being charged with aggravated murder, murder, tampering with evidence and the gross abuse of a corpse.
The body of Ball, who died as a result of apparent strangulation, was later raped and was found on March 1 in a field in a rural area just off of Piper Road near the Village of Vinton — in an area approximately five miles from her residence on Wilder Road.
David Ball, who had been married to his late wife for just shy of 25 years at the time of her death, reported that he had worked a double shift at his place of employment, Kyger Creek Power Plant, on February 29 — leaving home during the morning hours and did not return until approximately 12 a.m. that night.
Upon questioning, Ball stated that he had called the defendant, his then farm hand, to tend to chores on his farm while he was away working that day — a phone call he commonly made to Hawkins on days when he worked double shifts.
Ball reported that on days when he worked over, Hawkins would normally handle any feeding or evening chores that needed to be completed.
Ball stated that when he returned home, he noticed several small things out of ordinary at his home on Wilder Road, including several items uncharacteristically moved inside the garage and the next day’s sandwiches — typically made by his wife in the evening — not waiting in the refrigerator.
“These questions hit your mind, but you kind of answer them. I thought, ‘well, maybe she’s got to get up early in the morning and take one of the grandkids to the doctor or the dentist,’” he said.
After observing this, Ball stated that he began searching the entire house for his wife and then the exterior areas — calling a neighbor to bring a spotlight to search the grounds.
When he was unable to locate his wife, Ball stated that he then contacted law enforcement to aid in the search.
Betsy Ball’s body was found later that afternoon by a Gallia County Sheriff’s Deputy on a farm located on Piper Road — land, according to testimony, that belonged to the victim’s son, Matt Stepp.
According to Ball, Hawkins, who had worked previously for the Ball family in the 1990s and had returned to work for them approximately five years ago, reportedly continued to work for David Ball in the days that followed his wife’s disappearance and the subsequent discovery of her body.
“I believe it was the second day after her disappearance when he came up to the house,” Ball said. “I stepped out on the porch and was talking to him, and he put his arm up around my shoulder and told me that he was really sorry, and he couldn’t see why anyone would do something like that to a good person like Betsy was.”
Ball further stated that Hawkins did not admit to him any involvement in his wife’s death.
Upon cross examination by defense attorney Barbara Wallen, Ball reported that it was not usual for his wife to leave the house of her own accord.
Ball also told Wallen that Hawkins was consistent with his work on the farm.
Also to testify on Tuesday was Forensic Pathologist and Deputy Montgomery County Coroner Robert Shott, M.D.
Shott testified on his findings upon examining the body of Betsy Ball after an autopsy was ordered to be performed by Gallia County Coroner.
According to Shott, after he began the examination of the victim’s body, he immediately observed several exterior injuries on the body — the most visible of which were a “furrow” around the victim’s neck, a large open incision on her right wrist, hexagon-shaped marks across her cheek and a large open incision across her lower abdomen, among other smaller injuries.
Shott discussed the “furrow” found on Ball’s neck at length, stating that the quarter-inch mark was most likely caused by a rope, wire or other item that may have been used to bind the victim’s neck.
In addition, the coroner explained that small hemorrhages found in the victim’s eyelids, bruising on the victim’s trachea were both signs of strangulation; while a fracture on the “C-shaped” hyoid bone found in the throat was a more specific sign of manual strangulation, or strangulation done a the hands of another person.
Shott also discussed the hexagon-shaped marks on the victim’s face — which testimony would later clarify as wounds developed after Ball’s body was run over with a vehicle after he death — as well as the incisions on her abdomen and wrist — incisions most likely around the time of Ball’s death by a sharp-edged weapon.
Upon cross examination, Shott could not identify, with any specificity, the type of weapon or sharp-edged instrument used to make the incisions on Ball’s wrist and abdomen.
The Gallia County Coroner Daniel Whiteley, M.D., was the next witness called by the prosecution to testify.
Whiteley reported that he was called to the scene where Betsy Ball’s body was found during the late morning or early afternoon of March 1, and, upon observing the body, concluded that the time of death had been more than 10 hours prior to his observations.
Whiteley further discussed the injuries sustained to the victim’s neck and his observations of the victim’s body.
According to Whiteley, the completely horizontal “furrow” found on the victim’s neck would not be consistent with the markings typically found on individuals who die as a result of a hanging.
“This isn’t a hanging. If this were a hanging, then the ‘furrow’ — what you see going horizontally around the neck — would go up to a point where the person is being hung,” Whiteley said. “She didn’t do this to herself. It wasn’t an accident.”
Whiteley further explained that, while there is was no way to be completely certain, it was his estimation that Ball had been killed at approximately 8:30-9 p.m. on February 29. Her cause of death, according to the coroner, was asphyxiation due to strangulation and the manner of death was homicide.
Upon cross examination, Wallen asked the coroner, who had previously stated that he believed that the victim’s death had occurred at her residence on Wilder Road and not in the field where her body was found, if he could make that statement with any degree of medical certainty.
Whiteley did admit that this assumption was based on his own observations, however, upon further questioning by Assistant Prosecutor Eric Mulford, Whiteley discussed the factors he relied upon in concluding that Ball had been killed at her home.
“I don’t know how you could transport her out there [to the field], basically, unless she were disabled. I think that a severe attack occurred wherever she was initially at, and I don’t think that was Piper Road,” Whiteley said. “So, I think where she was initially attacked — and with a great deal of evidence to indicate that she was initially attacked in her home — that’s where her death occurred.”
Also testifying on behalf of the State of Ohio was Sgt. Eric Werry of the Gallia County Sheriff’s Office.
Werry, who, upon coming on duty on March 1, was notified of the disappearance of Betsy Ball and subsequently dispatched to the Ball residence on Wilder Road that morning.
As the supervisor on duty that morning, Werry became the lead investigator for the sheriff’s office in this case, assisting the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation with their investigation.
After assisting other officers and emergency responders in their search of the immediate area surrounding the Ball residence, Werry stated that the sheriff’s office received word that witnesses had observed a vehicle at the Stepp farm located on Piper Road the previous evening.
A second deputy was then dispatched to perform a probable cause search of the farm, and Ball’s body was later found on the farm.
Werry also discussed at length his involvement in the investigation of tire impressions that were found in the mud near to and on Ball’s body.
According to Werry, casts of the tire impressions were made and were later taken to a local tire dealership where a brand of tire that matched the casts was identified as the type of tire that made the impression.
Werry reported that the vehicle that made the impression had matching tires on the front of the vehicle, and a different type of tire on the rear of the vehicle.
On March 12, Werry reported that he, along with BCI agents went to the Ball’s residence where they found the defendant, as well as a Ford F-150 belonging to him. The tires on the vehicle reportedly matched the casts made by the officers and also matched the brand name identified at the local tire dealership.
Search warrants were later obtained and the vehicle impounded and its contents searched.
Werry later discussed his involvement in a subsequent search of the defendant’s home on Skidmore Road and the evidence collected inside, including pressed flowers in wax paper with Betsy Ball’s name written on the paper and a length of quarter-inch red rope.
In her cross examination, defense attorney Barb Wallen discussed the rope, the availability of such an item and whether that item could at all be at all connected to the murder of Betsy Ball.
Also to testify on Tuesday was Deputy Nathan Harvey, the evidence room manager of the Gallia County Sheriff’s Office, who discussed the evidence room procedures and how the evidence in this case and in any other case is handled by the sheriff’s office.
The trial in the case against Lee Hawkins will continue beginning at 9 a.m. on Wednesday in the Gallia County Common Pleas Courtroom.