0

Pair convicted in Alabama man's death

By Kathy Jefcoats

kjefcoats@news-daily.com

JONESBORO — A Clayton County jury completely discounted the testimonies of two men charged with killing an Alabama man in a Jonesboro motel in February 2011.

Chaz Jensen Ballard and Singlee Soun were convicted Friday afternoon in the brutal shooting death of James Johnson, 27. Ballard testified he fired only in self-defense. Soun testified that Ballard fired both weapons at Johnson while Soun sat on the motel bed, watching television and smoking a cigarette.

Johnson was shot eight times inside room 220 of the Econo Lodge on Upper Riverdale Road. Soun was arrested within days but Ballard eluded capture for about 18 months.

The jury even assigned blame by the type of firearms they believe each man used in the shooting, finding Ballard guilty of using a 9 mm handgun and Soun guilty of using a rifle. The two men turned down the state's offer Monday to plead guilty in exchange for life with the possibility of parole.

Assistant District Attorney Travis Meyer will ask for life without parole when the men return for sentencing March 18. He said he was pleased with the verdict, which came about two hours and 20 minutes after deliberations began.

"The jury went with what we told them in closing, with Ballard using the handgun and Soun firing the rifle," he said. "They were not there at the motel to hang out, they were there to rob Mr. Johnson. We're happy with the verdict, the family is happy. They can finally get closure in their lives."

Johnson's brother, Gill Johnson Jr., and his parents attended every day of the trial, having driven into Jonesboro from Alabama. They hit the road immediately after the verdict was announced to return home where they run a seafood business. They will return for sentencing March 18.

"We're very pleased, we're very thankful for how we were treated, especially since we were from out of town," said Gill Johnson Jr. "We're pleased with the DA's Office and everyone who helped with the case, from detectives to victims advocate to the prosecutors. We're very pleased with the justice system that came to a fair verdict."

Johnson said his family will ask for life without parole for the pair.

He said the verdict will help bring the family a sense of closure.

"Now we can start the healing process," he said. "This has been going on for more than two years. Hopefully, Mom and Dad and the whole family can begin to heal."

Johnson said his brother was divorced and the father of two small children. He said he was a good provider who lost his way.

"He was a good man," said Johnson. "After the divorce, he started going down the wrong road, hanging with the wrong people. He was trustworthy and that is what got him into the situation. He was gullible but a good, honest person. He had issues but always provided for his family."

Ballard was a cousin to former Los Angeles police Officer Christopher Dorner. Dorner is accused of killing four people and injuring three others in California before shooting himself earlier this month during a standoff with San Bernadino County sheriff's deputies.

Police said Dorner, 33, was fired from LAPD in 2009 for falsely accusing his training officer of kicking a subdued suspect. After unsuccessfully challenging his dismissal in court, police said he targeted numerous officers involved in his case and their families.