Dwight Ball wins partial publication ban on details of murder case

Premier Dwight Ball went to court to keep details involving his daughter under wraps.

Judge says premier's quick, 'commendable' actions helped catch a killer

Premier Dwight Ball (left) went to court to keep details of a murder case involving his daughter's ex-boyfriend under wraps. (The Canadian Press/Facebook)

A Newfoundland judge has upheld a partial publication ban on details in a murder case involving the ex-boyfriend of Premier Dwight Ball's daughter.

Ball went to court to keep information involving Jade Ball under wraps.

He argued her privacy and health interests trumped the media's right to report certain specifics Dwight Ball shared with police during a week-long manhunt in October 2015 for the suspect in a fatal shooting. Ball was less than two months from the election that would make him premier when he told investigators the killer may be his daughter's former boyfriend.

Premier Dwight Ball was emotional as he spoke in December about the effect the Brandon Phillips trial had on his and his family's lives. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

Chief Justice Raymond Whalen of the provincial Supreme Court ruled Monday the partial ban is a reasonable protection of privacy that does not overly restrict the media's right to report.

He stressed that press freedom is a "cornerstone" of democracy.

But he also said Ball's willingness to promptly report to police private details that helped catch a killer was "commendable."

Whalen ruled that allowing that information to be published could discourage other people from coming forward in future cases.

Lawyers for CBC and the Saltwire Network Inc. newspaper chain did not oppose the partial ban and weren't in court Monday.

Whalen said citizens who in good faith offer private information to police need to believe that to the legal extent possible, it will be protected from widespread publication.

Tip from premier led police to prime suspect

Documents released Dec. 19 under the partial ban outlined how Ball tipped police that the prime suspect wanted for murder in a botched St. John's bar robbery could be Brandon Phillips.

A jury found Phillips, 29, guilty of second-degree murder in December. He is due back in court Feb. 22 for a sentencing hearing.

Brandon Phillips talks to lawyer Jeff Brace in December as final summations began in his trial. (Fred Hutton/CBC)

Details leading to Phillips's arrest, which did not come out during his trial, were part of information related to a search warrant that Ball went to court to keep secret.

Ball said in an interview last December he only wanted to protect text messages and details related to private conversations with his daughter that he'd shared with police.

He argued his daughter had been charged with no crime and was not called to testify during the trial. He said her "privacy and personal health interests outweigh in importance any right of access to the information" sought by media.

'A very serious drug problem'

Other documents released in December revealed how Ball told police on Oct. 8, 2015 — five days after the shooting — that his tires had recently been slashed and his credit cards fraudulently charged for tens of thousands of dollars.

His daughter had also gone to police on Oct. 5, 2015, to report she was being harassed by a drug dealer for about $40,000 allegedly owed by Phillips, her on-again, off-again boyfriend for about four years leading up to the murder.

Jade Ball, left, had a relationship with Brandon Phillips, right. (Facebook)

"Ms. Ball states since the harassment has started, the persons responsible have now been harassing her father for the money, and at one point, bought a car using her father's stolen credit card number," said the documents.

Dwight Ball also told investigators that his daughter and Phillips had struggled in recent years with "a very serious drug problem" — especially opiates.

"Mr. Ball paid all outstanding bills they (Jade and Brandon) had. Mr. Ball's concern was to make them safe," the documents say.

In the December interview, Ball said his family has endured the same addiction issues that grip so many others.

"She's a much different person right now than she was over two years ago," he said of his daughter. "She's now a new mother — and a good mother, I would say."

Larry Wellman, in the foreground, was killed at the Captain's Quarters bar on Oct. 3, 2015. (Submitted by Heather McGrath)

Ball said it was his civic responsibility to go to police. He said he especially thought about the shooting victim, former firefighter Larry Wellman.

"He's the real victim in all of this."

Wellman, 63, died of massive blood loss from a single gunshot to the groin as he tried to stop the robbery at the Captain's Quarters bar on Oct. 3, 2015.