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Murder trial date set for Saranac Lake woman

Judge orders psychiatric evaluation

July 11, 2014
By CHRIS KNIGHT ( , Lake Placid News

SARANAC LAKE - The trial date has been set for a local woman accused of stabbing her former boyfriend to death inside her Morris Way apartment last fall.

It's the first murder case the village has seen in more than nine years.

Angela Ball's trial is scheduled to begin Nov. 17 in Franklin County Court in Malone. Judge Robert Main set the trial date Monday, July 7, in a series of decisions he issued on pre-trial motions filed by both the prosecution and the defense.

Ball, 30, was indicted in January by a Franklin County grand jury on counts of second-degree murder and first-degree assault. She is accused of assaulting Ward Wilbur with a baseball bat and then stabbing him to death with a knife inside her Saranac Lake apartment on the morning of Nov. 25. She's claimed she was attacked by Wilbur and was acting in self-defense.

Wilbur, 65, grew up in Lake Placid but had lived with Ball in a small, remote cabin just north of Saranac Lake.

Franklin County Public Defender Tom Soucia filed an motion to dismiss both counts of the indictment on the grounds that the evidence to support the charges was insufficient. Main denied the motion, saying the court's review of the indictment found it was sufficient and in compliance. He also found nothing wrong with the grand jury proceedings in the case, which Soucia had also questioned.

In a separate motion, Soucia requested an order that would prohibit the release of "videotapes and written statements of Angela Ball until such time as they become records in the public domain." The prosecution didn't oppose the motion.

A hearing has been scheduled prior to the trial to determine the admissibility of the recordings and statements. Until then, the judge agreed to seal the statements.

"Release prior to the suppression hearing clearly presents the possibility of a taint to any jury pool should information subject to suppression be released and subsequently be deemed inadmissible," Main wrote.

Immediately following Ball's arraignment in January, the Adirondack Daily Enterprise requested and obtained copies of Ball's written statements to police from the Franklin County Clerk's Office. The newspaper published a story the next day about the statements, which outline, in chilling and graphic detail, Ball's version of what happened the morning of Nov. 25, and the events she said led up to it. At the same time, the Enterprise tried to get copies of DVD recordings of police interviews with Ball. The clerk's office initially wasn't able to make copies and, several days later, said the court had issued a stay on the release of information from the case file.

In another decision on July 7, Main rejected an attempt by the prosecution to prevent the defense from offering any psychiatric evidence at trial.

Several weeks after the murder, a pair of YouTube videos surfaced in which Ball talks about a painting of her childhood home in Pennsylvania that she said contains hidden images of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Mother Theresa. However, those images aren't apparent in the painting, and the videos prompted authorities to raise questions about Ball's mental health.

In February, Soucia filed a notice of intent to present psychiatric evidence that would show lack of criminal responsibility by Ball "by reason of mental disease or defect." The prosecution claimed the notice wasn't specific enough or sufficient, but the judge disagreed.

Soucia had also outlined two other possible defense strategies: extreme emotional disturbance and justification based on battered woman syndrome. The prosecution asked the judge for an order that would show how Soucia plans to prove these defenses. Main said the request was premature.

"The court finds that it is not in a position to compel counsel for defendant to specify his trial strategy," Main wrote.

The prosecution also asked for an order directing Ball to submit to an exam conducted by a psychiatrist or licensed psychologist. The defense didn't oppose the request, which the judge granted.

Soucia didn't respond to a phone message at his office July 10. He hasn't returned multiple phone calls from the newspaper about Ball's case in the last few months.

Champagne said July 10 that his office is ready for trial, but he said evaluations of Ball by both defense- and prosecution-hired psychiatric experts, separate from the evaluation ordered by the judge, have to happen first. Champagne and Soucia have asked county legislators for funding to hire psychiatric experts for the case.

Asked why he tried to prevent the defense from bringing psychiatric evidence at trial, Champagne described that as a standard motion he's filed any time a psychiatric defense notice is made. He said he was trying to get the defense to nail down which strategy it was going to use, noting that some of the options Soucia put forth can't be combined.

"We were asking the judge, 'Make them pick which one they're doing,'" Champagne said. "Either you understand what's occurring at that moment, or you are enraged and infuriated and know exactly what you're doing, but the reason you're doing it is because of some battered abuse syndrome. We'll abide by the judge's ruling, but it might mean that we'll have to hire a couple more experts should this shotgun approach go forward."

Ball faces 25 years to life in prison if convicted of second-degree murder. The assault charge carries a minimum of five and a maximum of 25 years in prison.



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