Ballard found guilty, sentenced to life without parole

By Glynis Crawford Smith

Highland Lakes Newspapers

(Updated with comments from the defense.)

Garrett James Ballard was found guilty on two counts of capital murder and sentenced to life without parole on Monday, Dec. 12, in the 33rd District Court of Judge Allan Garrett.

He was charged in the shooting of two close friends, Elijah “Eli” Adam Benson, a 17-year-old Burnet High School student, and Travis Leslie Fox, a 26-year-old Burnet High School graduate.

After a week of testimony, the jury was out just over half an hour from deliberation to verdict, 2:10 p.m. -2:45 p.m.

“Once found guilty of capital murder, when the state does not seek the death penalty, life with no possibility of parole is the automatic sentence,” said District Attorney Sonny McAfee.

The decision not seek the death penalty in this case was made in cooperation with the victims' families from the outset.

“I spoke with the families of the deceased and they expressed their thoughts.,” McAfee reported in November 2014. “I also spoke to fellow prosecutors and law enforcement and we all agreed that justice would be best served by seeking capital murder and not the death penalty.”

“We got through with our witnesses Friday,” said McAfee. “We anticipated going to the jury by Wednesday, however the defense plan changed and they rested Monday.”

The shooting occurred around 5 a.m. Aug. 19, 2014, at the Ballard family home in the 5800 Block of County Road 340. Family members of Benson and Fox said the three young men were celebrating Benson's 17th birthday.

Ballard shared the home with his parents, Linda and Robert James “Jimmy” Ballard, who is Burnet County Precinct 3 Constable. As the couple was attending a Texas Narcotic Officer Association Conference at South Padre Island, the three young men made plans to meet there, play music and take a drug Ballard referred to as “acid.”

McAfee said that rather than the drug Lysergic acid diethyl-amide (LSD) that is commonly know as “acid,” the toxicology report on Ballard was positive for 25N-NBOMBe. That psychedelic/hallucinogen might be compared in its effects to the more commonly known street drug Ecstasy (3,4-methylenedioxy-methamphetamine or MDMA). There was some speculation that it's use might have been a key element in Ballard's defense.

“In fact,” McAfee said in a statement Tuesday, Dec. 13, “the analyst for the Department of Public Safety testified that Texas had not listed the compound as a controlled substance and it was her belief that possessing, using, or delivering the compound was not a crime at the time this capital murder occurred.”

Although Lampasas defense attorneys Paul Harrell and Zachary Morris put no witnesses on the stand, prosecutors DA McAfee and assistant District Attorneys Kristen Sharpe and Peter Keim brought forth 10 witnesses. They included Texas Ranger Jason Bobo and Burnet County Sheriff's Office Investigator Robert Clark, who were involved in the case from the initial investigation to Ballard's confession.

According to the report of that confession, Ballard was in a confrontation with Fox at approximately 5 a.m. when Fox used his forearm to hold Ballard against the wall. Again, according to Ballard, Fox stared at him “in a weird manner.”

The DA's summary of the evidence said Ballard did not explain why Fox held him against the wall or what caused the confrontation. He did explain, however, that following that confrontation, Ballard got the keys to his father’s law enforcement vehicle that was parked outside the residence, took a semi-automatic rifle, an AR-15, 5.56mm, and inserted a loaded magazine.

Apparently, Benson and Fox were inside when Ballard operated the action of the weapon, chambering a cartridge and readying the rifle to fire, because Ballard said Benson came out of the house first.

“When Travis Fox came out of the house and walked down the steps of the back deck, Garrett Ballard stated he began pulling the trigger of the rifle,” said McAfee's report. “None of Travis’ wounds was consistent with Travis Fox running or walking toward the defendant as he had claimed because none of the bullets entered the front of Travis Fox’s body. Instead, the wounds were on the right side of Travis Fox in a right to left, upward path.”

At least one shot was analyzed to have been fired while Travis Fox was laying on the ground.

“The defendant stated he then turned the gun on Eli Benson and ran toward Eli pulling the trigger,” said McAfee. “Ballard told Ranger Bobo and Investigator Clark that neither Fox nor Benson had hurt him or had any weapons. Garrett Ballard gave no specific reason for why the murders occurred and just said he 'felt' threatened, although neither person actually threatened him.”

Ballard first fled to the home of a girlfriend, Kylie Shouldis, and made contact with his parents, an aunt who is his mother's sister, Brook Hanson, and her husband, Marble Falls Police Department Capt. Glenn Hanson. Only Shouldis and Capt. Hanson testified to Ballard's immediate, apparent and uncharacteristic confusion in his first contacts.

“Justice was finally accomplished for Eli and Travis,” McAfee said following the verdict. “The violence perpetrated by Garrett Ballard has caused tremendous harm to the families of Eli and Travis and to this community as well. We will never have the benefit of knowing the man Eli would have grown up to be, or seeing the contributions Travis could have made to our community.”

McAfee said the jury had a difficult task in listening to horrific facts and seeing evidence of a very violent crime. He said he was proud of the hard work the jury did and further said apparently they paid very close attention during the trial because the decision on guilt did not take very long.

Although local attorney Eddie Shell had at first been involved in the case, it had passed to the public defender almost two years ago and had been accepted by the Lampasas attorneys just 67 days ago.

“We are still emotionally raw,” said Harrell on Wednesday. “You get emotionally invested. It was a heart-thought case.”

“My foremost thought is that my heart goes out to all the families in this tragedy. We hope a resolution of the case brings some healing.”

Harrell said he and Morris had hoped to put on witnesses, including a medical doctor.

“We were not able to and at that point re-grouped,' he said. “We have asked the court to appoint an appellate lawyer and we will work with them to see if there is anything the higher court can look at.”

McAfee thanked everyone that assisted in the investigation and prosecution of the case. Investigative agencies that assisted include the Burnet County Sheriff’s Office, Department of Public Safety, Texas Rangers, Burnet Police Department and investigators of the District Attorney’s Office.

Rate this article: 
Average: 3.5 (4 votes)