Nation - Pennsylvania Man charged in stabbing rampage

NORTHAMPTON, Pa. (AP) -- A man who served prison time for a 1992 murder was charged Sunday with fatally stabbing four people, including a woman described as the suspect's former girlfriend and her 87-year-old grandfather.

Police charged Michael Eric Ballard, 36, with four counts of homicide for Saturday's rampage in the eastern Pennsylvania town of Northampton, about 70 miles north of Philadelphia.

Police allege Ballard killed 39-year-old Denise Merhi, her father and her grandfather along with a neighbor who rushed over to help when he heard the initial screams from Merhi's home.

Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli said he will seek the death penalty.

Confidantes of Merhi told The Associated Press that she and Ballard dated briefly about two years ago. Ballard told police he "murdered (his) girlfriend and her family and then the neighbor," according to court documents.

Ballard pleaded guilty to third-degree murder in 1992 and was sentenced to 10 to 20 years in prison, according to court records in Lehigh County. Ballard, then 18, was accused of stabbing Donald Richard in December 1991 in Richard's Allentown apartment, according to newspaper accounts from the time.

The motive for Saturday's attack remained unclear. Friends and relatives of Merhi said there was no indication that Ballard posed a threat to the family.

Police identified the other victims as Merhi's father, Dennis Marsh, 62; her grandfather, Alvin Marsh Jr.; and her neighbor, Steven Zernhelt, 53.

Merhi had two children, but neither was home at the time of the attack.

Ballard, who was injured in a car accident shortly after the rampage, was arraigned at his hospital bedside. It was not immediately clear if he had an attorney.

After the attack, Ballard drove away in Merhi's Pontiac Grand Prix, and crashed it less than 10 minutes after police discovered the bodies. He had extensive leg injuries and was bleeding heavily. Medics who treated him at the scene spotted an empty knife sheath attached to his belt, according to a police affidavit.

An off-duty state police trooper who saw the accident asked Ballard what happened. Ballard replied, "It's obvious, I just killed everyone," the affidavit said.

Published: Tue, Jun 29, 2010

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