John Ballas’ attorney told a Delaware County judge Friday that his client didn’t deserve to be charged with first-degree murder in the slaying of a neighbor.
“This man came to my client’s home at 3 a.m. screaming, yelling, and damaging his property,” Mark Phillip Much said, referring to Joseph Iavarone, who was fatally shot by Ballas on Memorial Day. “There was no specific intent to kill.”
But District Judge Walter A. Strohl Jr. was not swayed, and Ballas was held for court on all charges, including first- and third-degree murder, and is set to head to county court later this year.
Assistant District Attorney Geoff Payne, the lead prosecutor on the case, argued that, regardless of intent, Ballas pointed a deadly weapon at a vital part of Iavarone’s body.
Iavarone and Ballas had their fatal confrontation May 27 on Ballas’ lawn in Aston, yards away from Iavarone’s own home. Investigators have said Ballas shot Iavarone once at the height of a heated argument.
During Ballas’ brief preliminary hearing Friday, State Police Corporal Michael Santos described being dispatched to the men’s neighborhood in the predawn hours for multiple calls of an “intoxicated male yelling." Investigators have said the first call was made by Ballas’ wife, who reported that Iavarone was outside her home, damaging a flower pot in her front yard.
Santos said he arrived to find Ballas standing outside. He said Ballas walked toward him with his arms above his head, motioning toward the .38-caliber revolver discarded nearby. He “seemed fine,” the trooper said, displaying a calm demeanor and cooperating with the investigation.
Ballas told Santos he shot Iavarone after Iavarone “charged" at him, and he said he believed he had hit him in the torso. But when Santos examined Iavarone, he found a gunshot wound at the top of his head.
The county medical examiner later ruled that was the cause of Iavarone’s death, and that the manner of death was homicide, according to Payne.
Neighbors told police they heard Iavarone yelling for Ballas’ son in an attempt to goad him into a fight, according to the affidavit of probable cause for Ballas’ arrest. Ballas woke up and retrieved a gun he kept locked in his bedroom, according to a statement his wife gave to police.
Another neighbor recorded the resulting confrontation on her cell phone, which was recovered by state police.
In the recording, Ballas is heard telling Iavarone: “If you come on my yard again, you’re going to be shot,” according to the affidavit. Iavarone and Ballas continued to argue, and Iavarone later said, “Don’t shoot me; don’t shoot me."
Iavarone told Ballas, “I don’t [expletive] around,” and then a gunshot was heard, investigators said. A minute later, Ballas said, “I told you not to do it,” and told someone off-camera he was going to wait for the police outside.
David Bytheway, a longtime friend of Iavarone’s, sat in silence during Friday’s proceedings, one of two who came in his support.
Afterward, he said Iavarone had recently had troubles, struggling with a bitter custody proceeding with his ex-wife that dominated his life and that influenced his resignation from the Garnet Valley School District.
Bytheway knew Iavarone had been drinking that day, but, he said, the man he had known since high school was not prone to violence.
Bytheway said he was devastated, especially since, given the tight-knit nature of their Delaware County community, everyone involved knew one another: Iavarone’s and Ballas’ children go to the same school, and Iavarone graduated from high school with Ballas’ wife.
“When I first heard about this, the anger I had wasn’t even toward [Ballas]. It was toward Joe, for putting himself in that position," Bytheway said. “But if you’re that scared, just lock yourself in your house.”