VERSAILLES — There were sobs from the defendant's relatives and approving nods and grins from others in the courtroom Tuesday after Lewis "Buck" Ballard was found guilty of murder and first-degree sodomy.
After about six hours of deliberation, a Woodford Circuit Court jury convicted Ballard in the death of 6-year-old Wesley Dylan Mullins of Winchester. Ballard, 51, remained silent, without any noticeable change in his expression.
Wesley's body was found Aug. 4, 2007, in his grandfather's garage on Main Street in Paris. The trial was moved from Bourbon County to Woodford County to seat an impartial jury.
The jury will start the sentencing phase of the trial Wednesday morning. Ballard could get the death penalty.
Wesley's grandfather Bobby Mullins said he found Wesley's body after he thought he heard the boy call for him from the garage. Wesley was in a pool of blood, and his skull was severely fractured.
Ballard, who rented a room in Bobby Mullins' home, was arrested about a month later. A grand jury indicted Ballard, saying he killed Wesley by striking him repeatedly on the head with a blunt object.
In closing arguments Tuesday, Commonwealth's Attorney Gordie Shaw said Ballard killed Wesley because he had sodomized him and did not want the boy to tell anyone.
"You don't just go out and kill a 6-year-old boy for no reason," Shaw told jurors.
Defense attorneys attacked Bobby Mullins throughout the trial and said police did not conduct a thorough investigation.
They questioned why Mullins — who said he thought Wesley was asleep most of the day in Ballard's room — did not check on Wesley until about 5 p.m.
Wesley, who was visiting for the weekend, went to sleep in Ballard's room after the two stayed up late playing darts, according to Bobby Mullins and Ballard.
Defense attorney La Mer Kyle-Griffiths said in closing arguments that Wesley's blood was found on Mullins' jeans, and she suggested that the grandfather was wearing boots spattered with Wesley's blood.
She pointed to inconsistencies between Mullins' testimony in court and his statements to police. She said a substance from a penile swab from Wesley — which prosecutors tied to saliva with Ballard's DNA — was in a concentration too low to be saliva. She said the lab the defense used couldn't tell who the substance was from.
"Maybe's not enough to saddle someone with this horrible label," Kyle-Griffiths said. "And maybe's certainly not enough to find an innocent person guilty."
But Shaw said Ballard was wearing the boots spattered with Wesley's blood and never mentioned sharing the boots with Mullins until he took the stand Monday.
On Monday, Ballard said he kept the boots in the living room so Mullins could wear the boots when he wanted. But prosecutors say Ballard told police he put on his boots then left his room the evening Wesley was found dead.
"Folks, the boots were in a locked room with him," Shaw told the jury.
Regarding inconsistencies in Mullins' statements to police, Shaw said it was "amazing he could talk at all" to police immediately after finding Wesley in the garage.
Shaw said blood on the cuffs of Mullins' jeans could not be confirmed as Wesley's. And Shaw said he found it difficult to believe that someone could walk into a crime scene and not get blood on himself.
Shaw said it was Ballard's DNA on Wesley's penile swab. Circuit Judge Rob Johnson reminded jurors that they'd have to decide on inconsistencies regarding the penile swab and testing done by the Kentucky State Police lab and the lab the defense team used.
Attorneys involved in the case and Wesley's relatives in the courtroom declined to comment after the verdict.
Ballard remained silent as sheriff's deputies walked him out of the courtroom in handcuffs.