East Ridge City Court Judge Cris Helton bound charges of murder over to the Grand Jury against three people accused in the February killing of Reginald Ballard.
The three charged _ Kyhree Donte Thompson, Tabitha Nicole Garrison and Verronta Page _ appeared in a two hour preliminary hearing on Tuesday.
Ballard’s body was found inside room 48 of the Cascades Motel early on the frigid morning of Feb. 20, when a staff member noticed the door wide open.
Page told Assistant District Attorney Cameron Williams that Garrison had called him on his cell phone on Feb. 20 asking him to come and pick her up at the motel where she was with Ballard. According to Page, Garrison told him that Ballard was forcing himself on her. Page _ who said he was carrying a 9 mm pistol _ said that he and Thompson encountered Garrison outside the room, then barged in the motel room and that Thompson shot Ballard with a .45 cal. handgun.
Garrison told the prosecutor during the hearing that she and Ballard had met on Facebook. She had known him only a short time. Garrison said that Ballard picked her up at a party in Rhea County. They had sex down by the river and picked up some liquor before going to the Cascades Motel. She testified that Ballard had previously sent her a message saying he wanted to “spend money” on her. Ballard had included a photo of him with a large amount of cash in his lap.
Garrison said that she had contacted Page the night of the killing and asked him to come and get her from the motel. She said that Ballard had told her that she would have to go stay with Ballard’s mother the next morning, and that Garrison felt uncomfortable in that scenario.
According to Garrison, there was a knock at the motel room door and Ballard went to answer it. Page and Thompson barged in brandishing “black guns.” Garrison told the prosecutor that Page shot Ballard once in the chest, then Thompson went over to the wounded man and shot him again.
She said that the trio “freaked out” and ran out of the motel room.
East Ridge Police Detective Daniel Stephenson told the court that an autopsy revealed that Ballard died from the result of gunshot wounds to the chest and neck. He said investigators recovered two spent 9 mm rounds inside the room. Two live 9 mm rounds were also discovered. No weapons were ever found linking the three to the killing.
Det. Stephenson told Williams that fingerprints, “essentially a hand print,” was processed by investigators on the door handle to the victim’s room. That hand print, he said, belonged to Thompson. Officers also recovered $4,100 _ presumably the money in the Facebook photo _ in Ballard’s wallet under the mattress in the room. No drugs of any kind were found at the scene, Stephenson said.
Under cross examination by attorney John Wysong who was representing Thompson, Stephenson was asked about gang affiliations of Page and Thompson. Stephenson said that Thompson had been associated with the “Rolling 20 Crips,” but that he had “dropped their flag” and may have been going with the Gangster Disciples.
Wysong suggested that a motive for the killing may have been for Thompson and/or Page to “verify” their new gang affiliations.
Stephenson said it was one possible motivation, but that the killing could also have happened in an attempt to rob Ballard. He offered a third motive that Page and/or Thompson may have also had a romantic involvement with Garrison.
Ballard’s family was emotional during the testimony. Afterward his mother, Denise Ballard and father, Reginald Locklin discounted their son’s involvement with gangs. They said that Ballard worked two jobs, a second-shift position at Hardees, and most recently a job at Chattem, to support his 17-month old son. They both believe the motive for killing their son was that the trio wanted to rob him.
“(Ballard) was staying with his grandmother,” Locklin said after the hearing. “When he wanted personal time he got a room. He picked the wrong person to get a room with.”