Jordan Ballard was back in federal court Wednesday as his attorney and a federal prosecutor answered questions for Judge Amos Mazzant III. The attorneys argued about the number of charges for which Ballard should be sentenced on the federal felon in possession charges. On the same day and just down the street, state grand jurors returned a murder and aggravated assault charges stemming from the same incident that got him charged in federal court.
Mazzant sentenced Ballard to 30 years in prison back in December of 2016 after accepting his guilty plea to a charge of possession of a firearm by a felon. The punishment for that crime was enhanced when Mazzant found Ballad responsible for the shooting death of Justyn Simmons, 26, outside of a home in the 600 block of West Monterey Street in Denison.
Ballard’s case was then ordered returned to the Mazzant’s court in Sherman for resentencing by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. A document dated May 22, signed by Justices Edith Jones, Jerry Smith and James Dennis said, “that the joint stipulation of the parties to summarily vacate appellant’s sentences and remand case to the district court for resentencing is granted.”
In court on Wednesday, Mazzant said he wants to set that sentencing hearing but first he must determine on how many charges Ballard should be sentenced. Ballard’s attorney, Seth Kretzer, argued that the government can’t prove there are multiple charges. He said if the government could charge multiple charges, then his client’s punishment range would increase from a ten-year max to 20 or even 30 years. However, he said, the way the government filed the indictment leaves them with no proof that two he committed two separate crimes.
Prosecutor Maureen Smith, however, argued that the gun he was charged with possessing is one charge and the ammunition is the second charge. She said federal law allows the court to make assumptions based on the evidence presented. She said there was testimony at the sentencing hearing about a gun that Ballard bought to protect himself. And there was evidence he obtained another gun to protect his girlfriend. Smith said the court could come to the logical conclusion that the two guns were purchased at the different times. One gun plus one ammo purchase, she said, equals two different crimes.
Mazzant, however, asked her to discuss only the information contained in the indictment, which listed the ammo and one gun being obtained on the same date, to answer his question about which charges the sentencing should consider. Mazzant said he didn’t see two different charges under those specific parameters.
The judge told both attorneys he would give them additional time to submit written briefs on their thoughts on the question before scheduling a sentencing hearing.
Meanwhile, in state court, the grand jury returned an indictment against Ballard. This is actually the second time a state grand jury has returned an indictment against Ballard. The first one on murder and aggravated assault was returned on May 27, 2015. Those are the same charges he faces this time around. The indictments are formal charges and not an indication of guilt.
On Wednesday, Grayson County District Attorney Joe Brown said the second indictment was to fix things left off the first one. He said the second indictment included an allegation of felony murder (murder while in the course of committing the offense of felon in possession of a firearm to do an act clearly dangerous to human life, i.e. shooting a gun) in addition to the previous allegation of intentional murder.
“We also added a count of aggravated assault related to Ballard’s shooting at the victim’s brother following the murder,” Brown said. He said those charges should have been in the original indictment but were inadvertently left out.
Reports from the time of Simmons’ death show that police went to a house in the 600 block of W. Monterey to check after gunshots were reported. When they arrived, they found Simmons dead.
Ballard turned himself in to police later that week. At that time, his attorney, Bob Jarvis, said Ballard shot Simmons in self-defense. Ballard has pleaded not guilty to the state charges.
Statements made in affidavits that were released to the Herald Democrat after the shooting show that people who were with Simmons said Simmons went to Ballard’s house to check on a female relative. The statements said when they arrived Ballard walked toward them displaying a gun. The statement said Ballard pointed the gun at the men. The group exchanged some words and Ballard fired the gun, according to the statements. Simmons was hit in the chest and died at the scene.
Jarvis ended up representing Ballard on the federal charges that were filed and while the state case made its way toward trial. The state case is currently set for trial on October 23.