Off death row, he now waits for a ride

Associated Press
Published February 25, 2006

RAIFORD - John Robert Ballard, who was set free from death row after the state Supreme Court ruled that there was insufficient evidence to convict him of killing two friends, didn't rush out of prison Friday at the first opportunity to savor his freedom.

Ballard, who was expected to be released Friday afternoon and reportedly had a bus ticket home, remained at the Union Correctional Institution in Raiford hours after prison officials said he was free to go.

What was the holdup?

"When people are released from prison, sometimes they have to wait on their ride," Department of Corrections spokesman Robby Cunningham said. "It's very common that there's not someone at the front door the second they walk out."

Ballard decided to wait for a relative to pick him up rather than ride a bus back home to Naples or accept a ride from a death row advocate who offered.

But a sister who said she was driving from Marco Island to pick him up said Friday that Ballard may have to spend another night in prison. The sister, who identified herself as Karen and declined to give her last name, said she expected to pick Ballard up about noon today.

Ballard, 37, had served nearly three years for the 1999 murders of Jennifer Jones and Willie Ray Patin Jr. in their Collier County apartment, even though there was little to connect him to the slayings of his friends.

The Supreme Court ordered Ballard acquitted Thursday, overruling a jury's verdict, saying there wasn't sufficient proof.

Ballard's conviction was based almost entirely on the discovery of a fingerprint and arm hair being found in the apartment - a place he had visited numerous times.