Daughter's Investigation Solves Murder
Novice detective work leads police to capture homicide suspect
As originally printed in The Daily Times on November 16, 2008. By Sharahn Boykin, Staff Writer.
SALISBURY -- Christine Miller-Mathis finished her last criminal justice class at Wilmington University in December 2007.
The next night -- Dec. 13 -- she came home from a 16-hour shift at her job, took a shower and went to bed.
When the 33-year-old woman's phone vibrated after 11 p.m, she hit the silent button. When Miller-Mathis' aunt kept calling back, she knew something was wrong.
"Christine, you need to come home," she remembers her aunt saying. "It's your mom. She passed away."
Miller-Mathis and her husband made the two-hour drive from Delaware to her mother's Salisbury apartment in the 100 block of Catherine Street mostly in silence. She couldn't believe her 51-year-old mother was dead.
Shirley Ann Smith's death was Salisbury's only homicide that year, according to Capt. Mark Tyler, who heads up criminal investigations for the city police department. But initially investigators did not rule the case a homicide.
"There weren't any obvious signs of trauma," Tyler said. "It almost looked like she laid down on the bed and passed away."
But Miller-Mathis suspected otherwise. When she saw her mother's body, it her looked like she had been beaten.
"Oh my God," Miller-Mathis said. "Somebody killed my mom."
Later, the report from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner would confirm her suspicions. Now Miller-Mathis and detectives were left with the question of who would harm the 4-foot, 10-inch 130-pound mother of two who was small enough to fit in kid-size shoes.
A Killer's Picture
The night of the murder, Miller-Mathis also noticed her mother's cell phone was missing. It was Smith's only phone and her only means of keeping in touch with her daughter.
Miller-Mathis dialed her mother's number, but she didn't hear the phone ring or vibrate. She suspected her mother's killer had the phone, so she gave police the username and password to the cell phone account.
She started going through the cell phone records and noticed two 911 calls and a call to a taxicab company. Miller-Mathis gave the information to police, but when it appeared investigators might not follow up on the information, she started going through the cell phone records line by line.
While combing through the calls, she noticed that a picture message had been uploaded to the account. She called the service provider a few days later and found out that whoever had the phone had downloaded music from Dave Matthews Band and Cameo, too.
Miller-Mathis downloaded the picture message. She didn't recognize the man, so she showed it to her uncle, who lived with her mother and her cousin who lived nearby. Her cousin, James Miller Jr., recognized the man, but didn't know his name. Later, he told her all he could find out was a first name -- "Warren."
Armed with a first name, Miller-Mathis decided to call the four most frequently called numbers in the cell phone records and ask for Warren. There was no answer for the first two numbers. When she called the third number ,the person said Warren didn't live there. Everything was about to change when she called the fourth number.
"Can I speak to Warren?" Miller-Mathis asked.
"Who is this?" a male voice asked.
Miller-Mathis was nervous. She hadn't thought of what she would say if somebody actually answered.
"Karen," she said.
"Is this about the hospital job?"
The man that answered the phone was Warren's cousin. Miller-Mathis would eventually hang up on him so she would have an excuse to call back after she thought things through.
She called back for Warren the next day, Christmas Eve, from her cell phone while she sat in her car. She told him that she couldn't read his handwriting and needed more information from him. She couldn't make out his last name and address.
Now she knew his name was Warren Ballard. She also knew he lived in the 800 block of Manoa Boulevard. Miller-Mathis gave the information to investigators and worked with them to set up a phony job interview so police could nab Ballard, she said.
"He gave me all the information I needed to get him," Miller-Mathis said.
Everything was set. Miller-Mathis had set up a job interview for Ballard for Dec. 27, 2007 -- the day of her mother's funeral. She had to set the appointment for 9 a.m. because Ballard wanted to be able to catch a bus to Virginia around 2:50 p.m.
"I wanted him so bad," Miller-Mathis said in a interview. "I would not rest until I got him."
Ballard didn't show for the job interview, but police knew where to find him. Miller-Mathis gave them the information about the bus to Virginia.
"What she did allowed us to get the arrest warrant for this guy and stop him from going out of state, which would have made it much for difficult for us to get our hands on him," said SPD Detective Cpl. Rich Kaiser.
Police found the Smith's SIM card -- a removable card that stores information in a cell phone -- in Ballard's possession. He was arrested for possessing stolen property Dec. 27, 2007, according to court records. Law enforcement officers later found Smith's cell phone at Ballard's home on Manoa Boulevard.
Ballard pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder charges in Wicomico County Circuit Court on Nov. 12. He said Smith attacked him the night of the murder, and he put her in a headlock and told her to calm down before shoving her off of him and onto the bed.
"It just got out of control," Ballard told the court. "It wasn't intentional. I didn't know she was dead. She was breathing when I left."
That same day in court, Judge Donald C. Davis found Ballard guilty of second-degree murder and sentenced him to 30 years in jail. It gave Miller-Mathis the closure she needed.
"I'm glad that justice was served," she said.
To read this article online visit: http://www.delmarvanow.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/200811160432/NEWS01/811160304.