SARANAC LAKE - Police say a local man was beaten and stabbed to death Monday inside an apartment house in an otherwise quiet residential neighborhood on Morris Way - the first murder case the village has seen in more than nine years.
Angela Ball, 29, of 1951 state Route 86 outside Saranac Lake, was charged Monday night with second-degree murder in the death of 65-year-old Ward Guy Wilbur.
Wilbur was found dead in an apartment at 19 Morris Way by village police Chief Bruce Nason and two of his officers just after 11 a.m., Franklin County District Attorney Derek Champagne said during a Monday night press conference at the village offices.
Saranac Lake police officers help Angela Ball out of a police car on her way into the Harrietstown Town Hall courtroom for arraignment on a second-degree murder charge Monday night in Saranac Lake.
Saranac Lake police officers help Angela Ball out of a police car on her way into the Harrietstown Town Hall courtroom for arraignment on a second-degree murder charge Monday night in Saranac Lake. (Photo by Chris Knight)
The DA said Wilbur died of blunt-force trauma and stab wounds, but he otherwise provided few details about the case. He wouldn't say what Ball allegedly struck Wilbur with or where. He also wouldn't reveal how many times he was stabbed, where or with what. An autopsy is scheduled to be conducted today, although Nason said this morning he didn't have all the details on when and where it would happen.
Ball was still at the scene when police responded and was subsequently arrested. After sitting in the village police station lockup for nearly 12 hours, she was brought to village court just after 11:30 p.m. Monday night for an arraignment before Judge Kenneth McLaughlin.
Wearing an all-green jail jumpsuit and black slippers, Ball was walked into court by village police with her hands and legs in shackles. She sat quietly at the defense table until the judge called her to the bench.
McLaughlin read Ball her rights and asked if she needed an application for a public defender. She said yes. She then waived her right to have the charge against her read aloud in court. The judge asked if Ball needed to make a phone call. Again she said yes.
Village police Patrolwoman Reyanin Peck handed Ball the phone, and she made a call to an unknown loved one. She told the person she had been "charged with some crimes" and asked him or her to take care of her dog, which police had seized earlier Monday.
"Ward attacked me, and it looks like it was my fault," Ball said over the phone. "He had attacked me several times, and it finally came to blows."
When she was done talking, Ball handed the phone back to Peck and told the judge, "Thank you for the phone call."
McLaughlin told Ball he wouldn't set any bail because she's being charged with an A1 felony. She was remanded to the Franklin County Jail in Malone pending a preliminary hearing at 1 p.m. Friday.
As Ball was escorted by police out the courtroom just after midnight, an Adirondack Daily Enterprise reporter asked her to describe what happened.
"I was attacked by Ward several times mentally, physically, spiritually," she said. "He tried to steal my soul."
Asked this morning if police had any evidence that Wilbur may have attacked Ball, Nason said, "I'm not going to comment on any of that at this point in time because the investigation is ongoing."
Champagne said Monday night that Ball was charged with second-degree murder because, "that's what fits as far as intentional homicide."
The connection between Wilbur and Ball remains unclear, as do other circumstances surrounding the case. Asked last night how she knew him, Ball only replied, "I don't know."
Nason said the incident took place in a ground-level apartment in the building, which is owned by Bob Decker. However, neither Ball nor Wilbur was a tenant of the apartment building where they were found, the chief and the prosecutor said. They wouldn't say if there were any witnesses to the killing.
Champagne said those kinds of details are not being released at this point because that could jeopardize the investigation.
"It's too early for us to get into those specifics," Champagne said. "We obviously believe we have an understanding of what transpired, but releasing those details at this time would be premature."
Asked if anyone else was involved, Champagne said police don't believe so. He said the public is not at risk.
"This appears to be an isolated incident, and the person which law enforcement believe is responsible is in custody," the DA said.
Wilbur had lived in Lake Placid, but Champagne said police are still verifying where he had been living recently, possibly at what the DA described as a "more local residence."
Around 5:30 p.m. Monday, Champagne and Nason met with McLaughlin behind closed doors in the town hall for about 30 minutes. When they emerged, Nason said police had obtained a search warrant, but he didn't elaborate. Police later seized a car from the property, although Champagne wouldn't say why it was taken.
A Saranac Lake Volunteer Rescue Squad ambulance went to the scene around 11 a.m., but Wilbur was not taken to the hospital. Franklin County Coroner Ronald Keough subsequently responded, Nason said.
Village and state police were parked outside the apartment house throughout the day. A string of yellow crime-scene tape was stretched across a section of the dead-end road, in front of the apartment house, when the Enterprise visited the site early Monday afternoon. A woman who said she lives in the apartment building was walking her dog outside at the time but said she had "no idea" what was happening. She said police had been in the building and that she didn't recall hearing or seeing anything at the time of the alleged murder.
Phil "Bunk" Griffin, who lives nearby on Catherine Street, said he saw a state police helicopter hovering over the property late Monday afternoon. Nason said it was used to take aerial pictures of the site. Griffin also reported seeing state troopers walking around the apartment house with a K-9 unit, although Nason later told the Enterprise he wasn't aware of a K-9 unit being used in the investigation.
At that point, Griffin said he had only heard rumors and names of the people involved, of a woman named Angie and a man named Ward. Asked if he knew them, Griffin said he had been acquainted with the pair and would see them from time to time in the neighborhood.
A state police crime scene investigation unit was still processing the scene late Monday night. Nason said Wilbur's body had been removed from the apartment.
The chief said more information about the case will be released when it's appropriate.
"This is going to be a lengthy investigation," Nason said.
Ball's name is not unfamiliar to village police. She was arrested twice in the past year. In May she was arrested after police received a report of an erratic driver. She was subsequently charged with driving while intoxicated, refusal to take a breath test and unlawful possession of marijuana. In December 2012, village police charged her with unlawful possession of marijuana after she was pulled over for a traffic infraction.
This is the first murder case in the village since 2004, when Nicholas Morris was arrested in the shaking death of his 15-day-old son. He later pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter and was sentenced to 15 years in state prison. He's still behind bars at the maximum-security Eastern Correctional Facility in Ulster County.