VERSAILLES — A jury decided Wednesday to spare the life of a man convicted of sodomizing and killing a 6-year-old Winchester boy two years ago.
The Woodford Circuit Court jury recommended Lewis "Buck" Ballard, 51, serve life in prison without the possibility of probation or parole. On Tuesday, the same jury had found Ballard guilty of sodomizing and killing Wesley Dylan Mullins.
Formal sentencing has not been scheduled. The judge is not bound by the jury's recommendation but cannot impose a more severe sentence.
Defense attorney La Mer Kyle-Griffiths said she plans to appeal the guilty verdict. She maintains that Ballard is innocent, and she said he's upset about going to prison for life for a crime he did not commit.
Wesley's relatives, including his mother, Stephanie Moore, were pleased with the outcome, although many of them wanted Ballard to get the death penalty.
Wesley's body was found Aug. 4, 2007, in his grandfather's garage on Main Street in Paris. Ballard was the grandfather's roommate.
"The only good thing of this is he won't get to another child," said Tony Gross, Moore's husband, who said he helped raise Wesley.
"I don't see how he can live with himself, knowing he did that," Gross said.
Wesley's grandmother Donna Moore said the family was "very happy" about the outcome of the case.
"Now that justice is done, he can actually rest," Moore said of Wesley.
Paris Police Chief Tim Gray, who plans to retire Friday, said the guilty verdict showed that a small-town department can handle this type of investigation. During the trial, defense attorneys said his department did not conduct a thorough investigation.
Gray said he knew the case was solid.
"It's been two years of hell for all of us," he said.
Gray, who has worked extensively with a non-profit established in Wesley's memory in Paris, said he plans to continue to advocate for children.
Ballard's relatives, who had been in the courtroom throughout the trial, declined interviews after the sentencing verdict.
But a few of Ballard's siblings testified Wednesday morning about their upbringing in a dirty home without running water with a physically and sexually abusive father. They called Ballard a good, caring brother.
Kyle-Griffiths asked Ballard's sister Rosa Dray why she would describe Ballard as good and kind-hearted after Tuesday's conviction.
"Because I've known him all my life, and he is," Dray said. "He's a good person."
Ballard was born in Estill County, and his mother gave birth to him without any assistance, defense attorney Jennifer Wittmeyer said. The umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck, and Ballard's mother had to revive him after he stopped breathing, she said.
Edward Connor, a licensed clinical psychologist, said Ballard's IQ is in the range of mild mental retardation. He said the lack of oxygen could have caused brain damage that contributed to learning disabilities.
Two Bourbon County jail employees testified that Ballard has been a model inmate while being held there.
Wittmeyer told jurors that Ballard has redeeming qualities and did not deserve to die.
"Lewis Ballard is not the monster the commonwealth wants you to think he is," Wittmeyer told the jury before sentencing deliberations.
Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Keith Eardley, however, asked the jury to recommend the death penalty, saying Ballard killed Wesley to cover up his crime, then lied and tried to blame the boy's grandfather.
Wesley missed growing up, spending time with his grandparents and having a family, Eardley said.
"Everything was taken from him," he said.
During brief testimony, Stephanie Moore, Wesley's mother, struggled to speak through tears about life without her son. "It's been hard, really hard," she said.