BURNET — Ronald J. Wilson believes the 33rd/424th Judicial District Court failed to provide his family a sense of security regarding a man accused of killing his brother, 26-year-old Travis Fox, after the suspect was released from jail without restrictions for about a month.
“It’s a very awkward position,” Wilson said. “I blame nobody but the county.”
Garrett James Ballard, 21, the son of Burnet County Precinct 3 Constable Jimmy Ballard, faces a capital murder of multiple persons charge for allegedly gunning down two of his friends, Fox and 17-year-old Elijah Adam Benson, on Aug. 19, 2014, at Ballard’s parents’ residence in the 5800 block of CR 340.
According to arrest documents, Ballard told investigators all three were on hallucinogenic drugs (LSD) when the two alleged victims began demonstrating “strange and disruptive behaviors,” so he retrieved a rifle from his father’s vehicle and shot them.
Deputies arrested Ballard that day and booked him into the Burnet County Jail.
He was released from jail Dec. 8 on a $500,000 surety bond, in which he posted $50,000, according to jail records.
“It just turns my stomach,” Wilson said. “It’s just absolutely sickening that they would let a double-murderer out on such a small bail.”
After Ballard’s release, officials with the 33rd/424th Judicial District said they discovered the only condition of bond Ballard faced involved wearing an ankle monitor with his whereabouts supervised by a bondsman.
Ballard had been assigned a court-appointed public defender as well, Assistant District Attorney Richard Crowther said.
“The DA’s office filed two motions: one to reinstitute bond conditions and (to) challenge (that) taxpayers (are) providing a free lawyer to the defendant,” he said. “Our concern was that there were no conditions and he was out on the street with no conditions.
“You’re supposed to be indigent to receive a taxpayer-paid-for lawyer,” he added. “The fact that you have $50,000 available to you or more and you choose to allocate it only for bond and not for counsel, those are decisions you make when you have resources available.”
On Jan. 7, along with requiring Ballard to obtain a private attorney, State District Judge Allan Garrett set court-ordered bond restrictions, Crowther said.
Ballard is prohibited from:
communicating with or conveying threats to the victims’ families and witnesses
going within 200 yards of residences of victims’ families and witnesses
coming into contact with victims’ families and witnesses
having direct access to firearms or munitions
“Given the fact that his dad is required to carry a firearm as part of his job, (Garrett Ballard) can’t have direct access to his father’s gun,” Crowther said. “We also talked in the hearing about everything else that is not being actively used by his dad for work is supposed to be locked up, and the only person who is supposed to have the key is his father.”
Also, Ballard is required to:
report to probation department and pay $40 per month
submit to weekly drug and alcohol testing
maintain or attempt to obtain gainful employment
wear an ankle GPS-monitoring device
adhere to a curfew
remain in Burnet County
“Oddly enough, everywhere in the 33rd and 424th, we don’t have standard bond conditions. Some magistrates impose them. Some don’t,” Crowther said. “That’s my concern as a prosecutor who sees this as a recurring problem is that we need standard bond conditions that basically would set upon the indictment. That’s not a typical procedure around here yet, and I am trying to change that.”
On March 11, the suspect is scheduled during a status hearing to inform the court whether he will request a trial or accept a plea, officials said.
Attempts to reach Ballard’s Austin-based attorney, Joseph A. Turner, were unsuccessful. Ballard’s family has declined comment.
Capital murder of multiple persons is punishable by life in prison or the death penalty with a conviction. The district attorney has said he does not expect to seek the death penalty.