Pamela Ballin said that her husband Derrick had been killed by a home invader, while she cowered upstairs. But when police began digging, her story didn't add up and Pamela found herself charged with murder.
It was 29 December. The fifth day of Christmas. But all the festive cheer of the last few days, seemed to be quieting down as the Ballins looked towards the new year, 2010.
The time was 2am. Pamela was already in bed. Derrick was downstairs on his own. Maybe he was watching something on the telly, having a drink or listening to music. Pamela didn’t know. She was fast asleep. Until she was roused by the sound of their back door being forced open.
Terrified, Pamela crept onto the landing. There, hiding in the darkness and frozen to the spot in fear, she listened. An intruder was in the house. Maybe more than one.
She heard Derrick get up, confront whoever it was. There was the sound of a scuffle, an almighty whack and someone’s body hitting the floor. Then, running. Someone racing to the back door and out into the cold, winter night. Heart pounding, Pamela made her way downstairs. She found the furniture overturned. A scene of chaos.
And in the middle of it, Derrick. Sprawled across the hallway, blood seeping from a gaping wound in his head. Quick as she could, Pamela called the emergency services. But no-one could save Derrick Ballin’s life. He died in hospital later that same night. It seemed the intruders hadn’t expected anyone to be up at that time. A burglary gone wrong. Or was it?
Police didn’t believe this account, and in time Pamela Ballin was arrested for her husband’s murder. It was June 2014 before she faced trial. And the prosecution’s version of events was very different to Pamela’s.
They argued that no one had broken into the Ballin’s house that night, and that Pamela had killed Derrick herself. She’d hit him over the head with a stone ornament the couple had in their sitting room. Then she’d deliberately damaged the back door and knocked a few pieces of furniture over before calling the police and claiming someone had broken in.
And the police testified she hadn’t seemed upset when she’d made that call. She’d been calm and collected. Worse, she hadn’t mentioned her dying husband once while on the phone.
He was lying on the floor, a bloodied, beaten mess and she’d said nothing to the emergency services about it. Why? Perhaps she wasn’t thinking straight because of the shock. Or, perhaps, she wasn’t thinking straight because of the guilt. And she’d continued to act cool, even after that.
When Derrick was taken by paramedics to a nearby hospital, Pamela didn’t go with him. Then, when the hospital called soon after asking her permission to attempt life-saving surgery on her dying husband, Pamela told them to wait while she finished giving her statement to the police. She didn’t seem distraught, or even upset. But did that make her a killer?
Then, there was the evidence from the scene. Police investigators said the scuffs and marks on the back door weren’t consistent with a break-in. And the furniture had been knocked over without it being damaged, or without it doing any damage to the floor. Almost like someone had set it down gently, deliberately…
Nothing had been taken by the intruders. It looked to the police as if Pamela had killed her husband and then staged the attempted burglary. But what the prosecution lacked was motive. Pamela and Derrick had been married 25 years. They had three children. And they worked hard to keep their gardening business.
But then Derrick’s brother, George, took to the stand.
He testified that things weren’t going well for Derrick and Pamela Ballin. In fact, Derrick had been worried Pamela was having an affair. And he’d also been worried Pamela was taking money from their business account. So worried, in fact, Derrick had decided to divorce Pamela.
Without him, Pamela would be left without the business, a business that had afforded the couple a home in the smart end of town, a life of luxury… And, of course, there was the small matter of the life insurance policy Pamela had taken out against Derrick. When he’d died, she’d got a windfall of $750,000. Could that have been motive enough to kill?
The jury believed so. Pamela Ballin was found guilty of the murder of her husband. She was, however, set free. The evidence against her was so weak, the judge wanted to consider if he should override the jury’s verdict, or declare a mistrial. Still, a month later, Pamela was called back to the court in Tampa, Florida, where the judge told her he was upholding the jury’s decision. She was sentenced to life in prison.