Pa. man facing murder trial: 'I don't want to die'

April 17, 2011 3:08:51 PM PDT
An eastern Pennsylvania man facing a death penalty trial next month in the murders of his ex-girlfriend and three other people last year is casting himself as a man wronged by many, but says "I don't want to die."

Authorities in Northampton County have charged 37-year-old Michael Eric Ballard with stabbing 39-year-old Denise Merhi to death along with her father and grandfather and a neighbor who came to their aid on June 26 in Northampton. Ballard was on parole at the time from a 15- to 30-year sentence in a 1991 murder in Allentown. Jury selection is scheduled to begin May 2 in Wayne County, where the case was moved due to pretrial publicity.

In an April 8 interview at the state prison in Frackville, Ballard told The (Allentown) Morning Call that he hopes jurors will give him life in prison without parole rather than the death penalty, saying life would be the "best" sentence he could hope for.

Ballard, who was not accompanied by his two public defenders, said he could not discuss the murders before his trial. Defense attorneys have raised the possibility of a mental-health defense.

Asked whether he felt remorse, he said the events are "not even a year removed" and "there's still a lot of raw emotion in me."

Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli has called the crime a "revenge killing" that was committed after Ballard found out that Merhi was involved with another man.

Ballard said he understands "popular opinion isn't necessarily in my favor" but accused the prosecutor of trying to "dehumanize" him.

"He's wanted to portray me as some vicious animal and that's not the case," Ballard said. "I'm flesh and blood. I'm human. I have emotions."

In the interview and letters to the paper, Ballard also indicated that he felt wronged by the parole system and his former girlfriend, and he dismissed evidence provided by fellow inmates and others.

Asked whether he regretted the 1991 murder of 56-year-old Donald Richard, Ballard told the paper "I do. He's still human."

"There are so many emotions that are tied into an event like that," he added. "It's hard to boil them down and say, do you regret things. There's a lot of things I wish I could have done differently."

Police say Ballard was arrested after he was found in a wrecked car two miles from the scene, bleeding profusely from knife wounds. A state trooper has testified that when he asked what had happened, Ballard told him, "It's obvious, I just killed everyone." Ballard told the paper that he can recall making that statement or others to doctors and investigators at the hospital, citing his severe blood loss at the time."


Information from: The Morning Call,