The jurors selected to hear the state’s case against Jordan Ballard in the April 2015 death of Justyn Simmon were hardly seated Monday before one of them was asking to leave.
Already facing a 10-year federal prison sentence, Ballard could face up to life in prison if convicted of the murder charge. He has pleaded not guilty to the charge that he laid in wait and killed Simmons outside of a home that Ballard shared with his girlfriend in the 600 block of West Monterey Street in Denison.
The state contends Ballard shot and killed Simmons and fired on Simmons’ brother Victor who was with him.
A man who had been selected for the jury said it was only after he was seated that he realized that a woman he knew from elementary school was actually the defendant’s mother.
The juror said he had spoken to Dionne Thompson during the morning of jury selection but the conversation was just a quick exchange of pleasantries. He said he thought she was just another person there for jury service. But when all of the people who were not selected for the jury were released, he looked up and she was still there. He said that was when he began to realize that she might have been involved in the case.
Both sides asked the man whether knowing Thompson, who is Ballard’s mother, would keep him from being able to be impartial in the case and he said he didn’t want to continue as a juror.
“It is a conflict of interest,” he said more than once.
When asked how well he knew Thompson, the man said they had gone all of the way through school together and had mutual friends.
Ballard’s attorney Larry Jarrett questioned letting the man off the jury because they had only picked one alternate juror. However, continued questioning didn’t seem to change the juror’s mind as he continued to think serving would be very uncomfortable for him. In the end, the prosecution agreed that the juror probably needed to be excused and he was allowed to leave.
Replacing the juror with the alternate didn’t change the gender makeup of the jury as both were men. There are three men on the jury and nine women.
Thompson has been a central figure in the litigation over her son’s actions that night in 2015 as she has written numerous letters to those involved in the case fighting for her son’s rights. She was in the courtroom during the pretrial and objected from the audience when the judge said there wouldn’t be room for spectators in the jury selection process. It was clear that she wanted to be able to watch that procedure.
For a few minutes Monday, it looked like she might have won the battle but lost the war as the prosecution attempted to have her excluded from the courtroom during the trial as a witness. When the attorneys called for the rule to be invoked, the prosecution pointed out that Thompson was on their witness list. Jarrett and Thompson both objected. Jarrett said Thompson was not at the scene the night of the shooting and had no involvement in the events that transpired there, therefore, she shouldn’t be called as a witness and was very interested in remaining in the courtroom. Prosecutor Matt Johnson said Thompson has been involved in previous court cases involving her son and might be considered a witness. Thompson left the room under direction by Judge Jim Fallon but eventually returned after the attorneys discussed the matter.
Jurors left for the day after hearing from the one man who was at the scene that night who is still alive and not in jail. Victor Simmons said he and his brother were not spoiling for a physical confrontation when they left Celina and headed to Denison to check on their cousin D’Vine Simmons, who family members said had been pistol whipped by Ballard. Victor Simmons said they arrived at the street where D’Vine’s mother had said D’Vine lived but couldn’t find the house. They were in the process of trying to get the house number, Victor Simmons said, when Ballard came out of the alley.
Victor Simmons said Ballard had a gun, but he talked to Ballard repeatedly, telling him to put the gun down.
“I didn’t think he was killer,” Victor Simmons said of Ballard. “So I felt comfortable.”
Victor Simmons said his brother felt comfortable enough, it seemed, to reference the cast on his arm and say he obviously wasn’t there to fight. But, he took that a step further and called Ballard a “dumbass” according to testimony from Victor Simmons.
Victor Simmons said he originally thought the shot Ballard fired in response had gone into the air but his brother turned to him and said he had been shot. Victor Simmons said he lifted up his brother’s shirt and saw that he had been shot. Victor Simmons said he carried and dragged his brother across the street and while he did that, Ballard kept shooting. He said he could see the shots ricocheting off the street.
“I just gave all of my attention to my brother,” Victor Simmons said about what he did while Ballard continued to fire at him.
Victor Simmons said he thought Ballard was trying to kill him too. Jarrett questioned Victor Simmons about why, exactly, he and his brother had gone to the house that Ballard shared with their cousin on that night. Jarrett asked whether several members of the family hadn’t tried to warn the brothers off their mission to check on their cousin.
Victor Simmons said his cousin said she was fine, but she didn’t sound like herself and they thought Ballard might be influencing what she said. Victor Simmons said his aunt gave him the address where he would find his cousin.
Jarrett also asked about the substances the Simmons brothers had ingested that night. Victor Simmons said they had drank some beers while playing dominoes and that his brother’s autopsy showed that he had cocaine in his system that night. Jarrest asked whether they had smoked crack before going to the house in Denison and Victor Simmons said they had not. He said he had taken a Xanax that day, but he didn’t know his brother had used cocaine.
The case will continue in the 15th state District Court Tuesday. Prosecutors expect the jury to deliberate about Ballard’s guilt or innocence by Friday. If convicted, Ballard has elected to have Judge Fallon hear the punishment testimony.