GALLIPOLIS — During day six of trial on Tuesday, a jury returned guilty verdicts to all but one of the charges against Lee A. Hawkins — the man charged earlier this year in connection with the murder of Betsy Ball.
The jury received the case late Tuesday afternoon and deliberated for approximately three hours prior to returning guilty verdicts to aggravated murder, tampering with evidence and the gross abuse of a corpse.
As Hawkins was found guilty by the jury of aggravated murder, the charge of murder in this case no longer applies.
Ball, 67, was reported missing during the early morning hours of March 1 after being last seen late on February 29. Her body was found later that day by a Gallia County Sheriff’s Deputy on a farm located on Piper Road just a few miles from her Morgan Township residence.
Following an investigation, Hawkins, 48, Bidwell, was later identified as a suspect in this case and has remained in custody since his arrest on March 13 by law enforcement officials.
During the sixth day of the trial, the State of Ohio called its final witness, Forensic Scientist Raymond Peoples of the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation — who positively identified the DNA of both the defendant and the victim on a rag found at the crime scene, as well as on swabs taken from the victim’s body — and rested its case.
After a recess, the jury was again brought before the court and defense counsel, Barbara Wallen, also rested the defendant’s case. No witnesses were called by the defense.
Closing arguments were later presented to the jury by both the State of Ohio, represented by Gallia County Assistant Prosecuting Attorneys Eric Mulford and Britt Wiseman, and the defense.
Mulford lead with his closing argument and summarized the evidence presented to the jury during the trial by the prosecution.
“Mrs. Ball was a wife, a mother and a grandmother. She spent the last day of her life running errands and caring for her family,” Mulford said. “By all accounts, Mrs. Ball was a kind and good person.”
Mulford then reiterated the facts of the case and the evidence as presented by the many expert witnesses called before the jury during the lengthy trial.
As outlined during testimony, Ball was attacked and murdered on the evening of February 29 — presumably in the garage area of her home on Wilder Road — and her body was later dumped at a nearby farm.
Hawkins, who had been a long-time farm hand for the Ball family, had learned the morning of February 29 that David Ball, the victim’s husband, would be working a double shift that day and would return to residence between 11 p.m. and 12 a.m. that night.
The prosecution summarized the autopsy results as discussed by the expert witnesses indicating that the primary cause of death was strangulation by manual, as well as ligature strangulation.
The victim’s body was also marred with a large cut across her abdomen, a deep sharp-force injury to her right wrist, had been run over by the suspect’s vehicle and had been doused in gasoline.
The DNA evidence also indicated that Ball had been raped by the defendant.
“This defendant committed a cold and calculated murder. This defendant not only took Mrs. Ball’s life, he took her dignity,” Mulford told the jury. “Then this defendant, sitting right there, this coward, told not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, but six different stories about what he did when confronted by a single police officer who took his voluntary statement.”
Mulford further instructed the jury to look directly at the facts of the case and the evidence presented by the state throughout the trial.
“The state has provided you with direct evidence, as I said, that it is this defendant who is guilty as charged. The autopsy doesn’t lie. Fingerprints don’t lie. DNA doesn’t lie. There is but one proven liar in this case and it is this coward sitting right here,” Mulford stated by pointing at the defendant. “We understand that this has been a lengthy trial and you have been presented with numerous exhibits, but this is not a difficult case.”
Wallen then presented her closing on behalf of the defendant.
In her argument, Wallen described the trial as a puzzle, with the prosecution having the duty of presenting those pieces of the puzzle to the jury — pieces that should all fit together.
“The pieces of testimony, as they come in, are just like pieces of a puzzle. Let me caution you, that those pieces that come in must be objective, factual and no manipulated. Much like making a puzzle, we are not going to bend the corners to make the pieces fit. The pieces have to fit.”
Wallen went on to discuss her many areas of concern in relation to what, in her words, was a “rushed” investigation into the murder of Betsy Ball, led by Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation (BCI) Special Agent Shane Hanshaw.
“Things are not nearly tied up as neatly as the prosecution would have you believe,” Wallen said.
The defense then discussed the belief that another person was involved in the crime and that there were several pieces of evidence that were not tested by the investigators.
“We will be the first ones to tell you that we agree that this is a horrendous crime. It’s a terrible thing, but it would be equally terrible to make a victim of this crime serve time or be punished in anyway for something he did not do,” she said.
While suggesting that the DNA belonging to the defendant taken from the victim’s body was there only as the result of a consensual relationship, the defense also pointed to the fact that the edged instrument used on the victim’s body and the ligature used in the strangulation were never found.
“Whoever set him up took those things with him that night. That’s why they haven’t been found,” Wallen said. “And how did this all come to be? Because BCI cares more about closing a case than finding the truth and, to me, that’s not justice. That’s not what the legal system is about.”
The State of Ohio was given the chance to give a rebuttal to the defendant’s closing argument.
Mulford stated that the defense’s argument was intended as a way of distracting the jury.
“This defendant’s not a victim. We’re not here because of the sheriff and we’re not here because of Shane Hanshaw. We are here in this courtroom, and have been for six days, because of this defendant and no one else,” Mulford stated. “The defendant claims, through counsel, that Shane Hanshaw tried to manipulate him, the state respectfully submits that this defendant is trying to manipulate you.”
Mulford argued against the defense’s theories as to what happened the day of murder, while indicating that it was the defendant’s attempt to deny justice in this case.
“The defendant tells you that he is not a bright man. He may not be, but he is a violent man. He is a murderer — as Mr. Wiseman told you in his opening statement — a cold and calculated murdered. As I told you a few moments ago this defendant took Mrs. Ball’s life and took Mrs. Ball’s dignity, and with this outrageous suggestion, outrageous suggestion, supported by no evidence at all, that they engaged in consensual sex, this defendant is trying to take away her reputation, and this defendant is trying to take away her opportunity for justice, and we’re not going to let him do it, and I implore you not to let him do it,” Mulford stated. “This trial has been lengthy, the state is fed up. This defendant has had his day in court, and it is time for this little game of his to come to an end.”
Sentencing in the case against Lee Hawkins will be held in the Common Pleas Court of Gallia County at a date yet to be determined.