ANNAPOLIS, Md. – Anne Arundel County State’s Attorney Anne Colt Leitess announced today that Joseph Willis, 22, of Pasadena was sentenced to three consecutive life sentences in prison for one count of first-degree murder in the death of Christopher Jones and attempted first-degree murder of Anne Arundel County Detectives William S. Ballard and Ian Preece during an hours-long manhunt.
Willis entered a guilty plea on November 24, 2020.
“I hope today’s sentencing provides the family of Christopher Jones and Detectives Ballard and Preece with a sense of relief and justice,” said State’s Attorney Anne Colt Leitess. “More than a year ago, Mr. Willis killed Mr. Jones in cold blood while he slept, stole his car, and then shot at two veteran law enforcement officers while attempting to stop him from continuing his crime spree: Det. Ballard was shot in the face which resulted in significant injury causing him to lose teeth, undergo intensive reconstructive surgery and have his jaw wired shut for months and Det. Preece was hit by gunshot projectiles fired by the assailant-one hitting his right arm, another grazing the right side of his torso and a third gunshot projectile going straight through his headrest and narrowly missing his head. Mr. Willis’ senseless actions traumatized our community by forcing schools to close and neighborhoods to lock down during the 16-hour manhunt. Today, the defendant was held accountable for these heinous crimes. In victim impact statements, family and friends expressed the overwhelming amount of grief they continue to experience in the loss of Christopher Jones, who they described as a ‘good kind person’ and ‘a gentle soul with a huge heart.’ We extend our deepest condolences to the Jones family and are grateful that Detectives Ballard and Preece are making healthy strides in their recovery. Their service to our county has been immense and we are fortunate to have them as Anne Arundel County police officers.”
Assistant State’s Attorney Jason Steinhardt prosecuted the case on behalf of the citizens of Anne Arundel County.
On February 5, 2020, 911 operators received a call from a resident who lives in the 600 block of Newfield Road in Glen Burnie who reported his roommate, later identified as Christopher Lawrence Jones, deceased. The resident advised it appeared that someone had ransacked the home and beaten Jones to death. The caller also stated that Mr. Jones’ vehicle was missing and that he believed that Jones’ friend, “Joe” from the Brooklyn Park area took Mr. Jones’ vehicle, a 2010 Toyota Camry. When police arrived to the location, they found Mr. Jones lying on his bed with traumatic head injuries. Currency and jewelry were missing from the home. An Assistant Medical Examiner at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner found that the manner of death was homicide from blunt force trauma.
While executing a search and seizure warrant at the home, Anne Arundel County police officers received a radio transmission that two Anne Arundel County detectives had been shot. Det. Preece and Det. Ballard, members of the Anne Arundel County Police Department Fugitive Apprehension Team, responded to Brooklyn Park after receiving notice that Mr. Jones’ vehicle was captured on a license plate reader near Church Street in Anne Arundel County. Det. Preece pursued the vehicle with lights and sirens activated at approximately 11 p.m. as it left Anne Arundel County and drove into Baltimore City. In another vehicle, Det. Ballard drove up next to the stolen vehicle and the driver of the vehicle shot Det. Ballard in his face. Det. Ballard was able to use his police issued radio to notify that shots were fired, but could only text his fellow officers he was shot. Officers responded to assist Det. Ballard who was transported to University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center where he suffered significant injury, including loss of teeth and the resulting reconstructive surgery.
Det. Preece continued pursuit of the vehicle when he was then shot in his right arm and grazed on the right side of his torso, with one projectile going straight through the detective’s headrest, where he narrowly missed a potentially fatal gunshot wound. Det. Preece struck the Toyota Camry on the driver’s side in an effort to stop the vehicle. The driver, later identified as Willis, exited the stolen vehicle and fled the scene. Det. Preece was subsequently transported to University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center and underwent surgery for his injuries.
On February 6, 2020, police executed a search of the residence that Willis shared with another man and found an empty handgun case, ammunition box with ammunition and various controlled dangerous substances. Police linked latent prints recovered from the interior and exterior storm door at the crime scene and matched them to the defendant, Joseph Willis. Approximately sixteen hours after the manhunt began, police located Willis inside a home in the 1300 block of River Bank Court with two other individuals who were also arrested. Inside the home were drugs that Willis later admitted were solely his. Willis was arrested and advised of his Miranda Rights and admitted to murdering Mr. Jones and shooting both Det. Ballard and Det. Preece.
The Honorable Michael J. Wachs presided over the case.