Ex-girlfriend slain in quadruple Pa. killing had been stabbed 45 times, coroner says

A convicted murderer accused of killing his ex-girlfriend and three other people stabbed the woman 45 times, then scrawled an insult to her on a wall in blood, authorities said Tuesday.

A Northampton County judge held Michael Eric Ballard, 37, for trial in the brutal slayings of his ex-girlfriend Denise Merhi and the others.

Ballard allegedly scrawled "Denise is a whore" in blood on a basement wall in the Northampton home where the woman was stabbed to death June 26 along with her father, her grandfather and a neighbor who ran to their aid.

The scrawl was near where the body of Merhi's father, Dennis Marsh, was found dead, State Trooper Raymond Judge testified during a preliminary hearing.

Merhi tried to fend off her attacker, County Coroner Zachary Lysek said. So, too, did Steve Zernhelt, 53, a neighbor drawn to the house after hearing screams. Zernhelt "fought very vigorously to defend himself and stop himself from getting stabbed," Lysek said.

Dennis Marsh, 62, and Merhi's grandfather, Alvin Marsh Jr., 87, also showed defensive injuries. Alvin Marsh was found dead in his wheelchair, his throat cut, Lysek testified.

Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli plans to seek the death penalty. Ballard's attorneys said it's too early to tell what course of action they will take.

Ballard, who was on parole for a 1991 murder at the time of the slayings, was largely silent throughout the 90-minute hearing. Members of the victims' families gasped as the coroner and investigators described the gruesome scene.

A teenage neighbor testified she saw Ballard on the front porch of Merhi's home the day of the killings, shaking his blood-covered hands as if to clean them.

Ballard was arrested a short time later after crashing Merhi's car. According to police, Ballard told the officer who pulled him over: "I just killed everyone."

Ballard broke his leg in the crash and had a cut finger and stab wounds to his abdomen when he was arrested, authorities said.

In 1992, Ballard, then 18, pleaded guilty to third-degree murder after stabbing and slitting the throat of Donald Richard. He was paroled in 2006, then jailed for a year on a probation violation before being released again in April.

Ballard was living at an Allentown halfway house at the time of his arrest in June.