Convicted Killer Captured Near Gautier Hours After Escape

Convicted murderer Michael Brian Balle was captured Tuesday without incident in woods near Gautier, hours after he escaped from the Jackson County Detention Center. Sheriff's Detective Sgt. Skip Kieper said no one was injured in the capture, which occurred about 1 p.m.

Sheriff's investigator Mick Sears said Michael Brian Balle, 25, had escaped through the detention facility's roof sometime between lockdown Monday night and 3 a.m. Tuesday.

Balle was ordered to serve life in prison without parole for killing Rachel Bellman of Ocean Springs. The victim had been sexually assaulted, strangled, beaten and stabbed.

Assistant District Attorney Ben Saucier, who helped prosecute Balle, called the escape "very disturbing.'' Saucier said his home was only about a mile from the victim's family.

Balle was to have been transferred Tuesday to the state's Central Mississippi Correctional Facility in Rankin County for evaluation and classification. Sears said authorities were still attempting to determine how the escape occurred.

A sheriff's department spokesman said Balle was being questioned about the escape Tuesday afternoon.

Authorities said before Balle's capture that the escapee had friends all along the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

Balle and Joshua Brink were arrested in the April 20, 2000, death of Rachel Bellman, whom Balle met at a lounge in Ocean Springs. Bellman's body was found several days later in a wooded area behind a house off Mississippi 57.

Balle was convicted on Aug. 1, and was sentenced to life without parole after prosecutors said they would not seek the death penalty in the case.