Michael Ballard, Pennsylvania


Update: Monday, October 19, 2015 11:04 am EDT

Michael Eric Ballard was scheduled to be executed at 7 pm EST, on Monday, October 19, 2015, at the State Correctional Institute Rockview in Rockview, Pennsylvania. He has been granted a reprieve by Governor Tom Wolf. Forty-two-year-old Michael is convicted of murdering 39-year-old Denise Merhi, 62-year-old Dennis Marsh, 87-year-old Alvin Marsh, and 53-year-old Steven Zernhelt on June 26, 2010, in Northampton, Pennsylvania. Michael has spent the last four years on Pennsylvania’s death row.

Michael was born in Arkansas. He had previously been arrested and served time for the Allentown, Pennsylvania murder of Donald Richard in 1991. He was paroled in 2006 for the murder, but returned to prison in 2007 for failing his anger management therapy. He was paroled again in April of 2010.

In 2007, while on parole, Michael Ballard meant Denise Merhi and the two began dating and briefly living together. After being re-released in 2010, Ballard and Denise resumed their relationship, although Ballard believed that Denise was also seeing other men at the time, which greatly upset him. On June 26, 2010, Ballard purchased a knife from a pawn shop. He then went a bar to have at least one drink, before going to the liquor store to purchase a bottle of vodka. From a gas station pay phone, Ballard called Denise twice, during which, Denise denied seeing another man.

Around 4:45 pm, a friend arrived at the house where Denise lived with her father, Dennis, and her grandfather, Alvin. The friend discovered Denise lying in a pool of blood in the kitchen. The friend ran to the home of Steven Zernhelt, a neighbor who immediately went over to Denise’s house to try and help, while his wife called the police. A second neighbor observed Ballard leaving the home covered in blood.


A short time later, Ballard crashed Denise’s car into some trees. An officer observed the crash and went over to lend assistance. After asking for Ballard’s name, Ballard replied “I just killed everyone.” Ballard was taken to the hospital for treatment for his injuries. While at the hospital, he made several statements about the murders.


Police discovered Denise in the kitchen. She had 45 stab wounds. Dennis was found in the basement with 15 stab wounds. Alvin, who was partially blind and deaf, was found in his wheelchair in his bedroom. He had eight stab wounds. Steven was found inside the front door with 20 stab wounds. Ballard eventually pled guilty to the crimes.


This is Michael Ballard’s second execution which has been stayed. Michael was last scheduled to be executed on December 2, 2014. Michael originally asked that his execution by carried out, but later changed his mind, saying he wanted to pursue appeals. He was granted a stay of execution by the Northampton Court of Common Pleas. That stay has since been lifted, however, on Friday, February 13, 2015, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf announced a moratorium on executions in the state, until he receives and reviews a report on capital punishment in the state, a report which was ordered in 2011. In his announcement, he called the death penalty in Pennsylvania a "flawed system," "ineffective," "unjust," and "expensive." The governor will continue to issue stay of executions until all problems in the report are satisfactorily addressed. Read more about the announcement here.


Due to Governor’s Wolf’s decision, he has refused to sign any execution warrants. Michael’s notice of execution was issued by Department of Corrections Secretary John Wentzel, which is in accordance with state law. State law requires the corrections secretary to issue an execution notice if the governor does not sign a warrant within a specific time frame.


Please pray for peace and healing for the families of Denise, Dennis, Alvin, and Steven. Please pray for strength for the family of Michael Ballard. Please pray that if Michael is innocent or lacks the competency to be executed, that evidence will be presented prior to his execution. Please pray that Michael may come to find peace through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, if he has not already.



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