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Verronta Page

A 21-year-old man who faced murder charges was sentenced this week to eight years in prison, a reduced sentence for testifying against his co-defendant in a 2016 trial.

Verronta Page pleaded guilty Wednesday to attempted especially aggravated robbery in the 2015 death of Reginald Ballard in East Ridge. He should be eligible for parole in a couple of months because he has already served 22 months in Hamilton County Jail, defense attorney Garth Best said. Records show Page only needs to serve 30 percent of his sentence, meaning he probably won't serve eight years.

The 21-year-old first landed in trouble about two months after a police officer found Ballard's body on Feb. 20, 2015, at the Cascades Motel on Ringgold Road. With the help of witnesses, prosecutors unraveled the murder mystery: A man named Khyree Thompson shot Ballard in the neck and chest after hatching a plan to rob him of $4,000 with Page and a third friend, Tabitha Garrison, 24.

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Ballard told Garrison he wanted to spend his money on her over a series of Facebook messages, prosecutors said. During a house party in Dayton, Tenn., on Feb. 19, 2015, they left together while Page and Thompson armed themselves with a .45-caliber gun and a 9 mm pistol. Prosecutors said the men rode out to Cascades together and followed Garrison's text message instructions to barge into room 48, where she and Ballard were staying the night.

While Thompson's defense attorney, Rex Sparks, said Page pulled the trigger, Page testified in November 2016 that his co-defendant was responsible. Thompson is serving a life sentence after jurors convicted him of first-degree felony murder and attempted especially aggravated robbery.

"Thompson was saying, 'Get the money, little homie,'" Page told jurors at the time. "I get scared, spooked. I didn't want to do it no more. I could see them fighting for the gun, so I run out."

Though Page wasn't in the room when he heard the two gunshots, "it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out what [Thompson] done," he said.

Prosecutors said the forensic evidence also supported Page's story: Crime scene investigators found 9 mm bullet cartridges in the motel room, which matched the gun Thompson was carrying. Because of his testimony and the evidence, prosecutors agreed to dismiss Page's first-degree felony murder charge, Best said. Plus, Ballard's family requested a lighter sentence since they never believed Page pulled the trigger.

The felony murder charge carries a life sentence, which Garrison also avoided when she pleaded guilty last month to second-degree murder, receiving a 15-year prison sentence, of which she must serve 100 percent, records show.

It's not uncommon for prosecutors to offer less prison time in exchange for credible testimony. In December 2015, for example, Carmisha Lay, 28, testified that her former boyfriend, Stephen Lester, ordered another man to kill Edward Glenn Jr. in 2013. She pleaded to lesser charges and is serving 15 years in the Tennessee Department of Correction, even though she initially faced a life sentence without parole.

In this case, prosecutors said, Garrison lied about what happened during a preliminary hearing in East Ridge Municipal Court in 2015, hurting her chances of cutting a better deal.

Contact staff writer Zack Peterson at zpeterson@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @zackpeterson918.

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