GALLIPOLIS — A jury trial in the case against a Bidwell man charged in the murder of Betsy Ball, 67, of Morgan Township, began on Monday in the Common Pleas Court of Gallia County.
Lee Hawkins, 48, stands accused of aggravated murder, murder, tampering with evidence and the gross abuse of a corpse following Ball’s death on February 29.
The victim was reported missing during the early morning hours of March 1, and her remains were later found in a remote area approximately five miles from her residence on Wilder Road.
Preliminary autopsy results that were later released by the Gallia County Coroner indicated that Ball died as a result of strangulation.
Hawkins, who, at the time of the incident, was reportedly a farm worker employed by the Ball family, was arrested on March 13 following an investigation into the murder.
The defendant was originally scheduled to appear for a jury trial on August 20 in the common pleas court. The trial was, however, postponed and rescheduled for October 1.
During day one of the trial, the State of Ohio, represented by Gallia County Assistant Prosecutors Eric Mulford and Britt Wiseman, offered their opening statements to the jury.
Wiseman spoke on behalf of the prosecution.
“Cold, calculating, cowardly. This case is about aggravated murder, a murder that was premeditated, cold and calculated. This is about that defendant — that coward — who waited until no one else was around and killed a 67-year-old woman as she stood helpless in her own home,” Wiseman told the jury.
In the state’s opening, Wiseman further laid out the facts of the case and what the prosecution would prove over the course of the trial.
According to Wiseman, the state’s evidence will show that the defendant, with prior calculation, allegedly strangled the victim to death, carried her body to his truck, hauled and dumped her body in a rural area near the Village of Vinton and raped her corpse.
“The conclusion to draw from this evidence is that, after this defendant murdered Mrs. Betsy Ball, that he fulfilled his sick, sexual appetite that night. The ultimate act of human degradation,” he said.
Further, Wiseman stated that the evidence will prove that the defendant mutilated the victim’s body, before leaving the scene in a truck, running over Ball’s body in the process.
“This defendant drove home that night without any remorse whatsoever for the life that he had just taken,” Wiseman said. “Oh, but this coward, he left piece after piece after piece of evidence that all point directly at himself.”
“The state will prove to you that that defendant — that coward — committed these heinous, these senseless crimes against a 67-year-old woman,” Wiseman said while pointing at the defendant.
The state also discussed the charges brought against Hawkins and the many witnesses that will testify on behalf of the state.
According to Wiseman, the investigation showed that a struggle occurred inside the garage at the Ball residence where fingerprints, allegedly belonging to the victim, were found. It is believed that the murder occurred at this location.
Wiseman also discussed the tire imprints found near the body — tracks that allegedly link back to a vehicle in Hawkins’ possession.
Hawkins’ DNA was also reportedly found inside Ball’s body, as well as on a wash cloth found near the corpse.
“These are the pieces of evidence that this defendant left behind the night that he murdered Mrs. Ball and that the State of Ohio will present to you throughout the course of this trial,” he said.
The assistant prosecutor further told the jurors to pay special attention to a recorded, voluntary statement made by the defendant during the investigation — a statement that will be presented at trial.
“Cold, calculated, cowardly. Ladies and gentlemen, this is a case of aggravated murder, this is a case of murder, this is a case of tampering with evidence and this is a case of gross abuse of a corpse,” Wiseman stated. “Over the coming days, the State of Ohio will present this case to you piece by piece, witness by witness and exhibit by exhibit. We fully expect that the evidence presented to you will convince you, beyond a reasonable doubt, that that defendant did commit each and every one of the offenses contained within the indictment.
“The State of Ohio gladly accepts that burden in this case,” he said.
Wiseman further told the jury that the case was not only about the defendant, but was also about the life that was tragically ended too soon.
“When I began speaking with you, I told you that this case was about that defendant — and it is — but this case is also about Betsy Ball. This case is about her family. This case is about her life that was tragically ended by a senseless, a cold and calculated murder committed by a coward who continues to refuse to take responsibility for his own actions,” Wiseman said.
“When we come back to you when all of this is over, we will ask you to hold this defendant accountable. We will ask you, specifically, for a verdict, and it’s the only verdict that the evidence in this case supports — that’s a verdict of ‘guilty.’”
Following the prosecution’s opening statement, the defense, represented by Public Defender Barbara Wallen, made a motion to address the jury in their opening statement at a later time.
The trial will continue beginning at 9:15 a.m. on Tuesday in the common pleas courtroom. It is expected to continue throughout the remainder of the week.