- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 21, 2015

EASTON, Pa. (AP) - A judge has lifted a stay of execution for a man convicted of a quadruple murder five years ago, but officials say that doesn’t mean he will be executed anytime soon.

Northampton County Judge Emil Giordano issued the ruling Tuesday in the case of Michael Ballard, who pleaded guilty to the June 2010 killings of his girlfriend and three other people.

District Attorney John Morganelli sought the ruling after the expiration of a deadline for Ballard, 41, to file further appeals. Morganelli wants the execution rescheduled but acknowledges that Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s death penalty moratorium will prevent it from occurring soon.

A judge last fall halted Ballard’s execution to allow him to join lawsuits challenging the state’s use of lethal injection.

Jurors sentenced Ballard to four death sentences after he pleaded guilty to the stabbing deaths of 39-year-old Denise Merhi; her father, 62-year-old Dennis Marsh; her grandfather 87-year-old Alvin Marsh Jr.; and 53-year-old neighbor Steve Zernhelt, who heard their screams and rushed to help them. At the time of the slayings, Ballard had recently been paroled after serving 17 years in the murder of an Allentown man two decades earlier.

Wolf imposed the moratorium on capital punishment in the commonwealth in February, shortly after he took office, calling the system error-prone and expensive. He said he would issue reprieves at least until he receives the overdue report by the panel that is examining the death penalty.

Pennsylvania has executed only three people since the death penalty was legalized in the 1970s, most recently in 1999; all had dropped their appeals.

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