Angela Ball pleads not guilty to murder (updated)

MALONE – Angela Ball pleaded not guilty to murder and assault charges Friday in the beating and stabbing death of her former boyfriend, Ward Wilbur.

The 29-year-old Saranac Lake woman was indicted last week by a Franklin County grand jury on counts of second-degree murder, a class A felony, and first-degree assault, a class B felony. She’s accused of assaulting Wilbur with a baseball bat and then stabbing him to death with a knife inside her Morris Way apartment on the morning of Nov. 25. She’s claimed she was attacked by Wilbur and was acting in self-defense.

Wilbur, 65, was from Lake Placid but had lived with Ball in a small, remote cabin just north of Saranac Lake.

Wearing an bright orange winter coat and Franklin County Jail jumpsuit Friday, Ball shuffled into the courtroom of the Franklin County Courthouse just after 10:30 a.m. with her hands and legs in shackles. She stood at the defense table with her lawyer, Franklin County Public Defender Thomas Soucia, as Judge Robert Main asked her a series of questions.

Soucia waived the reading of the indictment aloud in the courtroom and entered not-guilty pleas to each charge on Ball’s behalf.

District Attorney Derek Champagne told the judge that his office is ready for trial. He said he was filing several statements, including two Ball gave to police, other statements signed by village police officers, two DVDs containing video recordings of police interviews of Ball and another DVD of the “personal recorder” of Sgt. James Law.

Ball has been held in the Franklin County Jail without bail since her arrest on Nov. 25.

Soucia asked Judge Main to set bail for his client. He said Ball is from Pennsylvania but has lived in the Saranac Lake area for the past nine years. Soucia said his client’s criminal record is “not very extensive,” citing her driving-while-intoxicated arrest in May of last year in the village. He didn’t mention Ball’s arrest in December 2012 in Saranac Lake on a marijuana possession charge.

Soucia said Ball is currently not employed. He said his client has received assurances that she would have places to stay in Saranac Lake with either Eric Poole, her friend, or Bob Decker, the landlord who owns the apartment house where Wilbur was murdered.

“I understand these are serious charges, your honor, and there’s argument that she would be a flight risk,” Soucia said, “but based on the fact that she has contacts here and the fact that running away is clearly not an option, I would ask bail to be set in a reasonable amount.”

Champagne noted that the defense has 30 days to file a notice that it plans to pursue a “psychiatric” or insanity defense. He asked the judge to reserve any decision to grant bail until then. Champagne also said the fact that Ball has family out of state is a cause for concern.

The DA said he believes the probability that Ball could be convicted of murder is “very high” and asked the judge not to set bail.

Main ultimately remanded Ball back to jail without bail. The judge set a pre-trial motion and discovery conference for 9:30 a.m. Jan. 28.

Following the court proceeding, Champagne told reporters that what happens next in the case depends on whether or not Soucia files a notice that he’s planning to pursue a psychiatric defense for Ball.

“It would be required to say under what theory and it would have to give some specificity of what nature of psychiatric issue or problem was occurring,” the DA said. “I’ve had those cases in the past. It clearly makes it complicated for the county because defense counsel as well as my office will have to retain an expert. Those experts are typically very expensive. If the experts don’t agree, the court could want an expert, or we could seek another expert.”

In the weeks after the murder, a pair of YouTube videos surfaced in which Ball talks about a painting of her childhood home in Pennsylvania that she said contains hidden images of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Mother Theresa. However, those images aren’t apparent in the painting, and the videos have prompted authorities to raise questions about Ball’s mental health.

Soucia said he’s looking at different options for Ball’s defense, including a psychiatric defense.

“That’s a possibility,” he said. “There’s other possible defenses we’re looking at. We’re going to explore all our options.”

Soucia has never brought a murder case to trial in Franklin County. He has handled murder cases before, but they’ve settled before trial, he said. Should Ball’s case go to trial, Soucia said he has the necessary resources on his staff and using other avenues to give his client a capable defense.

“I’m not worried about going forward if we’re going to go to trial,” Soucia said.

Ball faces 25 years to life in prison if convicted of second-degree murder. The assault charge carries a minimum of five and a maximum of 25 years in prison.

Contact Chris Knight at 518-891-2600 ext. 24 or cknight@adirondackdailyenterprise.com.