Defense attorney Zachary Morris (left), capital murder defendant Garrett Ballard, and Ballard’s mother, Linda Ballard, walk into the courtroom on the first day of Ballard's murder trial. Ballard was convicted in the 2014 killings of Elijah Benson and Travis Fox on Dec. 12. Staff photo by Connie Swinney
CONNIE SWINNEY • STAFF WRITER
BURNET — What started as a birthday celebration turned deadly as details of a bad LSD trip, visions of demons, and access to a weapon led to the death of two friends and a capital murder charge for another, according to the first day of testimony Dec. 6 in the trial of 23-year-old Garrett Ballard.
Ballard faces life in prison if convicted of capital murder of multiple persons.
He is charged with the Aug. 19, 2014, murder of Elijah Benson, 17, and Travis Fox, 26, at what was then the home of Ballard’s parents in the 5800 block of CR 340 south of Burnet.
The case is being tried in the 33rd/424th Judicial District Court in Burnet with District Judge Allan Garrett presiding.
Among the witnesses was Marble Falls Police Department Capt. Glenn Hanson, who revealed he is the brother-in-law of the accused.
The revelation proved to be the second connection to law enforcement in the case as arrest documents revealed the rifle used in the homicide was retrieved from the patrol vehicle of the accused’s father, James “Jimmy” Ballard, who is the Burnet County Precinct 3 constable. Garrett Ballard was living with his parents, who were out of town at the time.
Hanson revealed that, on the night of the alleged murder, he and his wife, Ballard’s sister, received texts and exchanged phone calls with the defendant after the homicide.
In a text message to Hansen and his wife, Ballard wrote: “Y’all can handcuff me, so I can show y’all and you can arrest me (sic) I understand but first you have to listen to me! . . . I have to explain in person.”
Burnet County District Attorney Sonny McAfee and Assistant District Attorney Peter Keim questioned Hanson about subsequent phone calls, which provided insight into Ballard’s state of mind.
“He immediately told me they had exceeded the bounds of existence. … They had become demonized,” Hanson said. “I knew something was wrong with the way he was talking.”
Ballard admitted to using LSD, according to Hanson.
Earlier in the investigation, arrest documents alleged the defendant and the two young men had used the illegal drug to celebrate a birthday.
“He told me (Fox and Benson) had become demonized, growing horns out of their head, reciting Bible verses,” Hanson said. “That’s when he told me his friends were dead.”
Hanson called the Burnet County Sheriff’s Office to investigate and began getting dressed to head that way.
“At the time, I still didn’t believe any of this because it was so out of his nature the way he was talking,” Hanson said.
Defense attorneys Paul Harrell and Zachary Morris cross-examined Hanson, commenting that he was “trying to straddle both sides of this high and difficult fence” because of the family connection but acknowledging he had been cooperative with both the district attorney’s office and the defense.
Harrell asked Hanson if the “things he’s saying are out of character for (Ballard).”
Testimony is scheduled to continue Dec. 7.
Ballard has been out of jail after posting a $500,000 bond.
Though a capital murder charge can warrant the death penalty, McAfee had indicated he would not seek it. If convicted of capital murder, Ballard faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison.