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Opening statements to start at 1:30 p.m. in murder trial

By Kathy Jefcoats

kjefcoats@news-daily.com

JONESBORO — Opening arguments are set to begin at 1:30 p.m. in the murder trial of two men in what police said was a botched drug deal.

The two defendants turned down a deal Monday to plead guilty in exchange for life with the possibility of parole.

The deal would have meant a minimum of 30 years in prison for Chaz Jensen Ballard, 28, and Singlee Soun, 26. The men are accused in the February 2011 shooting death of James Johnson, 27, of Alabama during a botched drug deal at the Econo Lodge in Jonesboro.

Police said the men met to transact the purchase of methamphetamine but Johnson was ambushed and shot 10 times — seven with an AR and three with a 9 mm pistol. He was found the next day in the motel room.

But both men said Monday they'd take their chances with the jury. They could get life without parole if convicted.

Attorneys Neil Smith and Karlyn Skall argued unsuccessfully to sever the cases. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant District Attorney Travis Meyer.

Check back for updates or pick up a copy of Wednesday's Clayton News Daily.