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Khyree Thompson
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Verronta Page
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Tabitha Garrison

When Bruce Ross arrived at the Cascades Motel on Ringgold Road, the door to Room 48 was open. The patrolman of 21 years at the East Ridge Police Department slowly made his way down the walkway. He unholstered his gun and padded into the room.

It was cold that February 2015 morning. Inside the room, Ross noticed an unmade bed and blood on the left side of the covers. He heard the TV, and it was very loud. He crossed to the far side of the room, looked in between the wall and the nightstand.

And there it was, a body on the floor — 21-year-old Reginald Ballard. His body held up the nightstand at an odd angle against the wall.

"Was it early morning?" Hamilton County prosecutor Andrew Coyle asked the officer.

"It would have been around 7 o'clock in the morning," said Ross, who is now retired from the department. "So maybe an hour into the shift."

Ross was the first witness prosecutors called Tuesday in Hamilton County Criminal Court as they attempted to convince jurors that Ballard's death was no accident.

Khyree Thompson, 21, faces charges of first-degree felony murder and attempted especially aggravated robbery, records show. Coyle said Thompson, Verronta Page, 21, and Tabitha Garrison, 23, knew Ballard had received about $4,000 in tax return money.

"In the late hours of Feb. 19 — the early morning hours of Feb. 20 — [Thompson] and two other individuals decided they were going to rob Reginald Ballard," Coyle said.

It started at a party in Dayton, Tenn., off Railroad Road, said Promise Mathis, a state witness. Garrison, Page and Thompson were discussing the robbery, hoping to recruit her as a getaway driver, she said.

At the time, Mathis said, she was living with Garrison; Page was a middle-school friend; and she'd met Thompson about five months ago. She was there about 20 minutes before Ballard showed up. In Facebook messages, prosecutors said, Ballard told Garrison he wanted to spend some money on her. They arranged to leave the party together — and did.

Afterward, Mathis said, she walked outside with Page and Thompson. They quickly split ways "when they realized I wasn't going to drive them."

She went to her aunt's house while they walked about 20 minutes to Emerald Pointe Apartments, looking for a ride, Mathis said.

"Why didn't you contact law enforcement immediately?" Coyle asked.

"I was scared," Mathis said.

Ultimately, Coyle said, Thompson and Page got two bandanas and two handguns: a .45-caliber and a 9 mm. They went to the Cascades Motel, where Garrison met them outside, and went to Room 48, where Ballard was waiting.

"Thompson wanted the money," Coyle said, "a struggle broke out. During that struggle, this defendant shot [Ballard] in the chest. Instead of leaving, that wasn't good enough for Khyree Thompson. He shot him in the neck. And Ballard died."

Afterward, investigating officers combed the scene and found two flip-flops, a bullet casing in Room 48, and a latent handprint also on the scene that they positively identified as Thompson's.

Rex Sparks, a defense attorney representing Thompson, told jurors to pay close attention to the recollections and motivations of each person who takes the stand.

"The other two [Garrison and Page] are not here today," he said. "They're not being tried together. However, they are listed as witnesses for the state. And we anticipate they will testify."

Records show prosecutors moved to separate Garrison and Page from Thompson in August. There are many reasons for a severance. But as one defense attorney in a different pending case with co-defendants previously pointed out: If one alleged criminal gives a statement that implicates the other, the state cannot play it if they go to trial together.

Garrison and Page, who are housed at Silverdale Correctional Facility, also face felony first-degree murder charges and next appear before Criminal Court Judge Don Poole on Nov. 28.

Garrison, in particular, Sparks told jurors, "will probably tell you our version of events. Which will probably be different from her preliminary hearing in East Ridge. And from the first two stories she told police."

Sparks also referenced Kansas, the state in which authorities ultimately arrested Thompson. "That's in fact his home state. Junction City, Kansas. A smaller area than Chattanooga."

Around 5 p.m., Judge Poole dismissed jurors for the day. The trial resumes today in his courtroom at 9:30 a.m.

Contact staff writer Zack Peterson at Follow him on Twitter @zackpeterson918.