A house near Midtown that had a small marijuana-growing operation in the basement was the site of a drug deal that erupted into a firefight that ended in the death of a man trying to sell a quarter-pound of the drug, a Wichita jury was told Wednesday.
Ronald Betts, 33, of Derby, was shot three times in the back on the night of April 18 during what prosecutors said was a drug deal that went bad at 446 N. Emporia.
Kyle Beltz, 22, who prosecutors said lived in the house and was responsible for the growing operation, is standing trial this week for first-degree murder in Betts’ death. Prosecutors said Beltz and one of his co-defendants, Kyler Carriker, 23, were engaged in an inherently dangerous felony when Betts was killed.
Beltz is the first of six suspects in the case to stand trial.
In his opening statement, prosecutor Justen Phelps said the drug transaction was arranged by Carriker as he was stopped at a railroad crossing gate. While waiting for the train, Phelps said, Carriker and a man in another car struck up a conversation that led to a drug deal involving the sale of a quarter-pound of marijuana for $1,100.
Phelps said Carriker sent a text message to Betts asking about the drugs and Betts texted back, “I got you.” Phelps said the parties agreed to conduct the transaction at the home on North Emporia, with Betts providing the marijuana and receiving $1,050, and Carriker getting $50 for setting up the deal.
When they got to the house, Phelps said, Beltz hid in a bedroom with a shotgun and acted as a lookout as three would-be customers were escorted inside. At some point, Phelps said, someone in the group said something about “being short” and gunfire erupted.
Shots were fired at three locations in the house, Phelps said, and police later recovered casings from a 9mm handgun, a .380-caliber handgun and a shotgun.
“The defendant and Ronald Betts actually fired at each other in the chaos,” Phelps said.
Phelps said a bullet fired by one of the handguns struck Betts in the spine and another severed his aorta.
Wichita police Sgt. Jason Stephens, the state’s first witness, said that when he arrived at the scene, Betts was slumped on his knees by the front door.
“He did not appear to be breathing,” he said.
Stephens said he saw a black handgun and four shell casings on the floor, and the wall was riddled with bullet holes.
Stephens said he later went into the basement of the home and saw two tent-like structures. He said he could see through a flap in one of the tents that it had reflective surfaces and a lamp. He said the basement smelled like unprocessed marijuana.
Defense lawyer Mark Sevart told the jury in his opening statement that Betts often sold marijuana in the parking lot outside his client’s home. He said Beltz was not involved in the transaction that resulted in Betts’ death.
“He didn’t have the buyer; he didn’t have the pot; he didn’t get any of the money,” Sevart said. “This was not his deal.”
“Just because you know somebody’s going to commit a crime doesn’t mean you take part in the crime.”
Among the witnesses testifying Wednesday was Kelly Touchton, who lived in the house with Beltz at the time of the shooting. She said she and Beltz did not condone drug sales in their home, and that she was leery about the three strangers that Betts had brought into the house.
“Did you know if there was a drug deal taking place?’ Phelps asked her at one point.
“I assumed that’s what was going on,” Touchton said. “Everyone was acting so stiff. They weren’t hanging out like they were lifelong friends.”
She said she was in the kitchen when people began shooting.
“There were shots everywhere,” she said. “The house was a mess.”
The trial is being held in the courtroom of District Judge Greg Waller.