Friday, July 25, 2008

Jury Urges Death for Ballard in Murder

Intricate plan included making the body of his stepdaughter, Autumn Marie Traub, disappear after slaying.

By Jason Geary

Published: Friday, July 25, 2008 at 6:11 a.m.

BARTOW Jurors recommended Thursday that Roy Phillip Ballard should be executed for killing his stepdaughter in an intricate plan that included making her body disappear.

After about two hours of deliberations, the jury returned with a 9-3 vote recommending that the 67-year-old Zephyrhills man should receive the death penalty. While the jury must be unanimous when it votes to convict, which it did July 2 - only a majority is required to recommend a sentence.

Circuit Judge Donald Jacobsen must now decide whether Ballard should be sentenced to life in prison or sent to death row.

Under Florida law, a judge must give great weight to the jury's recommendation.

His wife, Kathy, lowered her head when the recommendation was read and began to cry. Kathy Ballard, whose daughter, Autumn Marie Traub, is the victim in the case, has stood by her husband throughout the trial.

Traub, 33, of Lakeland disappeared Sept. 13, 2006, after meeting with Roy Ballard. Her body has never been found.

Investigators said they unraveled a complex web involving child sexual abuse, jealousy and murder.

Prosecutors say Ballard killed Traub because she was preventing him from regaining custody of a 14-year-old female relative who Ballard was molesting.

Assistant State Attorney Cass Castillo argued Traub's murder was "cold, calculated and premeditated" - an aggravating circumstance that can provide the legal basis for a death sentence.

"The decision to kill another human being to satisfy your sexual perversion is cold," Castillo said.

Ballard was also jealous that Traub's husband was having sex with the girl, Castillo said. "He had dual motives for the killing of Autumn Traub."

Ballard's lawyer, Stephen Fisher, said the murder wasn't a cold killing, but sprang from his client's obsession with the girl and his jealousy that another man might be having sex with her.

"Sexual desire and jealousy are not cold; they are hot emotions," Fisher said. "And so much so in this case that it drove Mr. Ballard to murder."

But Castillo argued Ballard's complicated planning demonstrates he is someone completely aware of his actions who took great pains to avoid detection.

In August 2006, Ballard attempted to regain custody of the girl but was thwarted by Traub.

The Ledger is not naming the girl because she is an alleged victim of a sex crime.

Ballard, a former maintenance supervisor for Atlantic Metal Industries in Tampa, then spent more than 30 days thinking about a plan to get rid of Traub, Castillo said.

A receipt from a home improvement store dated Sept. 2, 2006, shows Ballard purchased a roll of duct tape and an 18-inch metal pipe, which is thought to be the murder weapon.

Castillo said data from cell phone towers show Ballard was in North Lakeland on the day before Traub's disappearance. He concluded Ballard must have been making preparations.

A jail inmate testified Ballard confessed to beating Traub to death with the pipe.

Ballard is said to have then bashed her teeth out to prevent identification with dental records, placed her body in acidic water to eat away her skin and weighted her down with blocks. Ballard got rid of the pipe by grinding it down at work.

If her body wasn't discovered, Traub would remain a missing person, and there would be no further investigation, Castillo said.

But Ballard underestimated the dedication of Lakeland police.

"That's what he failed to calculate," Castillo said.

Investigators found crucial evidence inside the trunk of Ballard's 2004 Saturn: the receipt for the pipe and tape, some plastic Wal-Mart bags with a small trace of Traub's blood on them, a roll of duct tape with blood on it thought to be Traub's and a sex toy with the girl's DNA material on it.

The Ballard murder case was a source of contention between the State Attorney's Office and Circuit Judge Susan Roberts.

The State Attorney's Office accused the judge of making comments that showed she was prejudging that the death penalty wasn't appropriate because of Ballard's age.

The 2nd District Court of Appeal ruled Roberts should not preside over the case, which was reassigned to Jacobsen.

On Thursday, the defense argued Ballard suffers from brain damage that affects his ability to follow the law and control his behavior.

Fisher told jurors Ballard's declining health problems, including multiple strokes and seizures, have left him with brain damage that slowly transformed a "good man into a killer."

"We are not asking you to spare Mr. Ballard's life just because he is old," Fisher said.

Castillo pointed out Ballard was able to perform well at his job before his arrest. He has also behaved himself while incarcerated at the Polk County Jail.

At a hearing in late August, the defense will have an opportunity to provide more legal arguments and testimony that Ballard should receive a life sentence.

Jacobsen will then set a sentencing date.

[ Reporter Jason Geary can be reached at or (863) 802-7536. ]

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