On Monday, December 12, 2016, 33rd District Court Judge Allan Garrett sentenced Garrett James Ballard to life without the possibility of parole for the capital murders of Elijah Benson, 17, and Travis Fox, 26. Garrett Ballard was immediately remanded to the custody of the Burnet County Sheriff pending transfer to the Institutional Division of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
The sentence was in accordance with a Burnet County Jury’s verdict of guilty to capital murder in the case.
The murders occurred August 19, 2014 at the home of Garrett Ballard at a remote residence on County Road 340, where the defendant lived with his parents, Linda and Robert James “Jimmy” Ballard. Jimmy Ballard is Constable for Precinct Three and he and his wife were attending a Texas Narcotic Officer Association Conference at South Padre Island at the time of the killings. Garrett Ballard invited Eli Benson and Travis Fox, to his house on August 18, 2014, so the three of them could play music together and take a drug Ballard referred to as “acid” while Ballard’s parents were away. Eli Benson turned 17 on that day, and the three planned to stay the night at Ballard’s house. Upon testing by the Department of Public Safety the “acid” was determined not to be LSD which is usually referred to as “acid” but a chemical compound referred to as 25N-NBOMe which is a hallucinogen with a different chemical structure than LSD. In fact, the analyst for the Department of Public Safety testified that Texas had not listed the compound as a controlled substance and it was her belief that possessing, using, or delivering the compound was not a crime at the time this capital murder occurred.
According to the Defendant’s confession, obtained by Texas Ranger Jason Bobo and Burnet County Sheriff’s Office Investigator Robert Clark, Garrett Ballard was in a confrontation with Travis Fox in the early morning hours of August 19 at approximately 5 am. During that confrontation, Travis Fox held Ballard against the wall with Fox’s forearm, and according to Ballard, Travis stared at him in a weird manner. Ballard did not explain why Fox held him against the wall or what caused the confrontation. He did explain, however, that following that confrontation, Ballard got the keys to his father’s law enforcement vehicle which was parked outside the residence, took a semi-automatic rifle, an AR-15, 5.56mm, and loaded the weapon by placing a loaded magazine into the rifle. He then operated the action of the weapon, placing a cartridge into the chamber making the rifle ready to fire. Eli Benson and Travis Fox were apparently still in the residence when Ballard was loading the rifle and Eli came out of the house first. When Travis Fox came out of the house and walked down the steps of the back deck, Garrett Ballard stated he began pulling the trigger of the rifle. None of Travis’ wounds was consistent with Travis Fox running or walking toward the defendant as he had claimed because none of the bullets entered the front of Travis Fox’s body. Instead the wounds were on the right side of Travis Fox in a right to left, upward path. At least one shot was analyzed to have been fired while Travis Fox was laying on the ground.
The defendant stated he then turned the gun on Eli Benson and ran toward Eli pulling the trigger. Ballard told Ranger Bobo and Investigator Clark that neither Fox nor Benson had hurt him or had any weapons. Garrett Ballard gave no specific reason for why the murders occurred and just said he “felt” threatened although neither person actually threatened him.
In Texas, intentionally or knowingly causing the death of more than one individual, in the same transaction, is capital murder. The only two possible punishments for capital murder are death or life in prison without the possibility of parole. The State waived the death penalty in this case prior to trial. District Attorney Sonny McAfee stated that some family members of the victims preferred the District Attorney seek life without parole rather than death as punishment in this case. McAfee said it was after consulting with the surviving members of the families, his prosecutors and law enforcement officers involved in the investigation that he decided to waive the death penalty.
District Attorney Sonny McAfee, along with Assistant District Attorneys Kristen Sharpe and Peter Keim prosecuted the case. Garrett Ballard was represented by Lampasas attorneys Paul Harrell and Zachary Morris. After a week of testimony, the jury began deliberations at approximately 2:10 pm Monday afternoon, December 12, 2016, and returned a guilty verdict at approximately 2:45 pm.
Following the verdict and sentencing of the defendant, District Attorney McAfee said, “Justice was finally accomplished for Eli and Travis. The violence perpetrated by Garrett Ballard has caused tremendous harm to the families of Eli and Travis and to this community as well. We will never have the benefit of knowing the man Eli would have grown up to be, or seeing the contributions Travis could have made to our community.
McAfee said the jury had a difficult task in listening to horrific facts and seeing evidence of a very violent crime. He said he was proud of the hard work the jury did and further said apparently they paid very close attention during the trial because the decision on guilt did not take very long.
McAfee thanked everyone that assisted in the investigation and prosecution of the case. Investigative agencies that assisted in this case include Burnet County Sheriff’s Office, Department of Public Safety, The Texas Rangers, Burnet Police Department, and Investigators of the District Attorney’s Office.