By Steve Visser
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
A DeKalb County judge reversed himself Wednesday and ordered the arrest of a woman he had earlier freed after a jury had convicted her of killing her husband.
Superior Court Judge Mark Anthony Scott ordered Pamela Ballin taken into custody until a July 17 hearing on whether she received a fair trial or whether the evidence against her warranted a conviction for the death of Derrick “Ricky” Ballin.
DeKalb’s top prosecutor, Robert James, had contended that Scott should not have released Ballin last week after a jury found her guilty. James also had asked the court to order the arrest of the Lithonia woman because she was free without bond.
In Scott’s new order, the judge said he did not know the original $100,000 bond had been lifted in 2012 because the district attorney took too long to indict the case.
“I’m talking to the sheriff department,” said Ballin’s lawyer, Keith Adams. “We’ll make arrangements to bring her in, sometime within in the next 12 hours. There is no reason for them to come out and kick any doors in.”
Adams noted Ballin had faithfully complied with court orders and never attempted to disappear in the four years she had been free since husband’s death Dec. 29, 2009.
The story has been an emotional one for David Ballin. He was stunned when his father was killed; he was stunned when his stepmother was arrested; he was stunned and frustrated when it took police and prosecutors four years to bring the case to trial.
And then last week he was stunned twice more — first when the jury convicted his stepmother, and then when the judge let her go, concerned she had not gotten a fair trial.
Ballin now believes his stepmother killed his father out of a mixture of greed and infidelity. But prosecutors had prepared him for an acquittal because the 2009 case was circumstantial. It took them three-plus years to indict it.
“All that led me to believe there was no way we could get a conviction,” he said from his home in Boston.
But when the jury declared Pamela Ballin, 53, guilty last Wednesday, David Ballin said he felt a surreal relief that 12 people had determined her guilt. That quickly morphed into surreal confusion as the judge indicated he was considering setting the verdict aside and said Pamela Ballin was free to go home.
“As far as the judge letting her go, I was totally confused,” he said. “This was a violent crime. Somebody who is capable to taking someone’s life like that in cold blood is not somebody you would want walking around on the streets.”
“It seems like a Lifetime movie.”
The Lithonia woman had been released on bond since shortly after her arrest in early 2010 on charges she murdered her husband of 24 years.
Scott has scheduled a hearing to decide whether to let the guilty verdict stand or grant either an acquittal or a mistrial. David Ballin and his uncle George Ballin fear their relative will flee to her native Jamaica.
James contends the judge overstepped and broke the law when he released Pamela Ballin.
“Pamela L. Ballin — found guilty of malice murder — has been released into the community with no bond and against the laws of Georgia,” said a motion James filed in Superior Court on Monday. “Judge Mark Anthony Scott has no legal authority to consider either a mistrial or a directed verdict. … Once a jury returns its verdict, the trial has ended.”
But Ballin’s lawyer, Adams, said while it may be unorthodox and politically risky, Scott was well within his authority to grant an acquittal or mistrial after a jury verdict, as a Fayette County district attorney found out earlier this year.
“At the end of the day, there were some questions the court had about the evidence in the case,” Adams said. “The DA is giving Judge Scott a hard time, but he has the tough job.”
Adams asked for a mistrial because a key state witness, the crime scene investigator, ignored a court order to be available to be called to testify by the defense and instead went on vacation.
Instead, she testified by Skype, which Adams said was ineffective because he couldn’t properly question her about crime scene photos because she could not see them.
Adams called it critical testimony because DeKalb detectives contend Ballin staged a home invasion to blame for her 53-year-old husband’s death; Adams said the photos undermined the detectives’ theory. Also, detectives had contended that Ballin was having an affair — claiming she texted a lover days after the death — but the phone and text records that might have proved that had disappeared, Adams said.
“We contended that was a flat-out lie,” he said of the text. “That was just the way they painted her.”
Moreover, Adams argued that a directed verdict of an acquittal — something extremely rare in a criminal trial — could be supported in the Ballin case because he said detectives had been caught in misleading and untruthful testimony and there was nothing tying Ballin to the crime other than their theory that she killed her husband for life insurance money.
He said no evidence was produced at trial of any threatened divorce by the husband and only of one long-ended affair involving the wife and a DeKalb police officer. The detectives, who contended she increased her husband’s life insurance policy to $750,000, never checked with the agent, who testified that Derrick Ballin requested it, Adams said.
One detective had been so compromised by previous testimony at hearings that turned out to be false that prosecutors didn’t even call him to testify at trial, Adams said.
Plus, Adams noted, Derrick Ballin, who had been struck at least a dozen times with a heavy object, was still alive when police arrived — which supported his client’s claim that intruders had killed him while she hid in a bathroom.
The couple, who owned At Your Service Lawn Care and Landscaping, lived in Lithonia’s upscale Stoneleigh subdivision.
“Thinking practically, if you are going to kill the guy, why leave him alive so he possibly can say to the cops, ‘You did this to me,’ ” Adams said. “Their own expert said whoever assaulted him would be covered in blood. She didn’t have a drop of blood on her.”
To George Ballin, however, the jury had spoken. His brother was a gentle giant, the New York man said, whom he had seen angry only once — when they were kids and some others boys stole George’s bike.
The judge should have made the decision about a mistrial or directed verdict at trial, Ballin said, rather than waiting to see what the jury would do.
“You can’t change what 12 independent people came to an agreement on. Why go to the trial?” George Ballin said. “I don’t know about Georgia law, but that doesn’t seem right to me. That someone can be convicted of a crime like that and go home.”