By Kathy Jefcoats
JONESBORO — Two co-defendants gave conflicting stories Thursday about the events leading up to the shooting death of an Alabama man during a February 2011 drug deal.
Chaz Ballard said he was only protecting himself from James Johnson, who reportedly got angry when he discovered the two trying to sell him fake methamphetamine. Ballard also testified that co-defendant Singlee Soun also shot Johnson. However, Singlee Soun said from the stand that Ballard shot Johnson in cold blood while he watched television and smoked a cigarette.
Ballard spent most of Thursday morning on the stand in Clayton County Superior Court, telling jurors he fired the victim’s gun toward the floor in self-defense. Prosecutors said Johnson, 27, was shot eight times and drowned in his own blood in room 220 at the Econo Lodge on Upper Riverdale Road. Ballard, 28, said Johnson was mad when he discovered that Ballard and co-defendant Singlee Soun, 26, tried to sell him 4 ounces of fake methamphetamine.
Ballard told the same story to his attorney, Karlyn Skall, under direct-examination, and under cross-examination by Soun’s attorney, Neil Smith. Ballard denied he and Soun set Johnson up to rob him.
“It wasn’t a robbery or I wouldn’t have invited James’ girlfriend up to the room with us,” said Ballard. “When I showed him the product, he was pretty [upset]. He knew it was fake. He picked up his bag and pulled his gun out and pointed it at me.”
Ballard said Johnson was yelling and cursing, accusing the pair of “playing him.”
“Singlee pulled a rifle out from under the covers and James turned his head when he heard the sound,” said Ballard. “When he turned, I grabbed the gun and we both had our hands on the gun, struggling. He was stronger than me. My adrenaline was pumping and Singlee started shooting the rifle. I was scared and managed to get the gun from James.”
Ballard said he fired two or three times toward the floor just to get Johnson away from him so he could run from the room. Under cross-examination by Assistant District Attorney Travis Meyer, Ballard said he didn’t know why Soun began firing. Meyer wondered how Ballard avoided getting hit.
“James Johnson was hit eight times,” said Meyer. “You weren’t hit once.”
Ballard said it was a miracle.
“I don’t know how that happened,” he said. “It was a miracle.”
Ballard said he and Soun ran from the room but he heard Soun continue firing as he exited.
“I heard him growl and fire three or four more times,” said Ballard.
Meyer, Ballard and prosecutor Erman Tanjuatco performed a demonstration for jurors about how the shooting went down in the motel room. Chief Judge Deborah Benefield assured jurors that the gun used in the demonstration was not real and could not be loaded.
Meyer stood in for Johnson as he faced Ballard. Ballard said Johnson’s gun was pointed straight at his face and he reached for it when Johnson turned in Soun’s direction.
Soun was arrested within days of the shooting but Ballard stayed on the run for about 18 months. He testified Thursday he had no intention of surrendering.
“I figured I probably had a good chance of never seeing daylight again even though it was self-defense,” he said.
After a lunch break, Soun took the stand. He said Ballard asked him to take a ride with him that night in 2011 and he did so without question. Tanjuatco was incredulous.
“He told you he was going to meet someone and do something work-related but you knew he didn’t have a job?” said Tanjuatco. “You didn’t know what he meant? He left some guy sitting in his truck while you two went into a motel room and you didn’t ask why?”
Soun said he didn’t know anything about a drug deal although Ballard testified that Soun cooked a batch of fake methemphetamine to sell to Jackson when they couldn’t find the real drug. Soun testified that Johnson “didn’t do nothing” and didn’t deserve to be shot. He accused Ballard of trying to rob Johnson and shooting the unarmed man when he resisted.
Soun said Ballard held a handgun in one hand and a rifle in the other as he fired shots at Johnson inside the small motel room. He denied any involvement.
“I took a couple puffs on a cigarette and just looked,” Soun said.
Soun denied holding either gun that night except for picking up the rifle on the way out in an attempt to defend himself if Ballard turned on him.
Both sides rested and the case is expected to go the jury by Friday morning.