CASE CLOSED: Ballenger pleads guilty to felony murder in death of Baby Hoss, receives 40 years

Crystial Vialonda Ballenger (Cullman County Sheriff’s Office)

CULLMAN, Ala. – It’s the end of a tragic case that began more than five years ago, when 1-year-old Hoss Benham was pronounced dead on his first birthday. Crystial Vialonda Ballenger, 28, of Cullman pleaded guilty Thursday to felony murder in the death of Baby Hoss, her son, who died in March 2014. The charge was reduced from capital murder of a child under 14 years of age, preventing a possible death sentence.

Ballenger, represented by local attorneys Melvin Hasting and Michael D. Haynes in front of Circuit Court Judge Gregory Nicholas, received a 40-year sentence in state prison, equal to that of her co-defendant Jeffery Hugh Brown, who, The Tribune exclusively reported last week, pleaded guilty to the same charge last Friday, Dec. 13.

Ballenger and then boyfriend Brown were indicted Oct. 20, 2015 on charges of capital murder of a child under 14 years of age, capital murder during sexual abuse, aggravated child abuse and sexual torture in the death of Baby Hoss, who died on his first birthday; examination of his body indicated blunt force trauma and multiple signs that he was tortured in a sexual manner.

Brown and Ballenger initially told authorities that Baby Hoss drowned in their home at Monk’s Trailer Park on U.S. Highway 31 in Vinemont, but they gave conflicting stories. Baby Hoss was pronounced dead March 11, 2014. Examinations later showed he had multiple severe injuries all over his body.

Baby Hoss’ injuries were detailed in court records; however, due to their heinous nature, they will not be printed here.

When Ballenger pleaded guilty to felony murder, the charges of aggravated child abuse, capital murder during sexual abuse and sexual torture were dismissed.

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W.C. Mann