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Opinion

Remembering my client who died on death row
 
Published Sunday, November 19, 2017
by Elizabeth Hambourger, Special To The Tribune

I’m a capital defense lawyer. Death is an inescapable part of my work, but that’s been true this year more than most.

In January, my client, Ricky “Coolie” Gray, was executed in Virginia. North Carolina has not had executions since 2006, but those on death row are dying of old age and sickness. In October, my client, Terry Ball, slipped away with barely a mention after almost 25 years on death row. I believe his life is worth remembering, and that his story holds keys to understanding the origins of crime and our shared humanity with those labeled the worst of the worst.

Terry grew up in Mansfield, Ohio. His problems began at 10, when he was hit by a car and spent eight weeks in the hospital. The head trauma he suffered permanently changed him. His grades fell, and he became defiant.

Perhaps it was because of this brain damage that Terry made the fateful decision to run away from home at 13 with his girlfriend, Kim. A man named Jerry Wood approached the pair in a bus station and offered them a place to stay. They gratefully accepted, having no idea that Wood was a serial rapist of runaway and neglected boys.

Wood put Kim on a bus home but forced Terry to remain with him for a month, raping him repeatedly and keeping him high on drugs. Eventually Terry escaped. When he returned home, he was placed in a juvenile detention center as punishment for running away.

This was the 1970s, and it seems Terry’s parents and psychologists were unable to confront the reality that Terry had been raped. Instead, they worried that he was gay. One psychiatrist wrote: “When he was away from home, he traveled all over the country with a 32-year-old male. This association raised the question of possible homosexuality; Terry denies this… The parents… at the present time appear to be concerned in case the label of homosexual will be applied to Terry.”

Terry never received treatment or even recognition of the trauma he’d been through, and Jerry Wood was never prosecuted for it. Today, Wood is serving a 45-year sentence in Pennsylvania for the rapes of two other children.

Without treatment, Terry turned to drugs to dull his pain, shame, and rage. He enlisted, but was discharged from the Navy because of addiction and then committed several violent robberies. In 1990, released from prison and living in Washington, North Carolina, Terry discovered crack cocaine. Desperate to kick his addiction, he checked himself into three treatment centers in three years. He joined Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous, got married, and found a maintenance job. He also began attending a church pastored by Tony Krantz.

Krantz lived with his wife, Laura, and their two young children. The Krantzs tried to help Terry with his addiction. But one night in June 1993, Terry binged on crack and pills until he ran out. Desperate for money to buy more, he went to the Krantz home.

It was 4:30 a.m. when Tony Krantz found Terry at his door. Tony poured him a Dr. Pepper at the kitchen table. Suddenly, Terry attacked him with a knife. Seriously injured, Tony ran for help. Awakened by the noise, Laura came downstairs. Terry stabbed her 17 times. Laura bled to death while her children watched.

Terry was sentenced to death just seven months later, in 1994. Like most people tried during those years, Terry’s story of trauma and brain damage was barely told. If his trial were today, this mitigating evidence would have been thoroughly presented and likely would have persuaded a jury to sentence him to life without parole.

Terry lived on death row for 24 years. His mother and sister died, and Terry’s health deteriorated. For the last few years, he was confined to a wheelchair in constant pain. He was 59 when he died. I am grateful he died in his cell, near the other condemned men who had become his family, rather than in the miserable solitary confinement of Central Prison hospital.

Terry Ball caused a lot of pain, and he also experienced more than his share. The same is certainly true of Coolie and most of the thousands of people still on our nation’s death rows. This is who we sentence to death: the most damaged, the most abused; traumatized children who grow into adults without learning how to cope with their fear and anger. The death penalty says these lives have no value. I disagree.

 

Elizabeth Hambourger is an attorney with the Center for Death Penalty Litigation in Durham.

 

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