Jury begins deliberations in Beltz murder trial

12/16/2013 12:24 PM

08/08/2014 10:20 AM

A Sedgwick County jury began deliberations Monday in the first-degree murder trial of a Wichita man who is charged with taking part in an attempted drug transaction that turned deadly.

Kyle Beltz is one of six suspects charged in the April 18 death of Ronald Betts, 33, of Derby, who was shot as he was trying to sell a quarter-pound of marijuana for $1,100 in a house at 446 N. Emporia.

Prosecutors said Beltz, 22, lived in the house and agreed to act as a lookout as three of the would-be buyers were invited inside. Lawyers on both sides said the customers did not have the money needed to buy the marijuana and went to the house to try to steal it.

Everyone in the room was armed, the lawyers said, when one of the customers opened fire and touched off a shootout that resulted in Betts’ death. Wichita police recovered 20 shell casings from the scene.

One of the suspects, Lorenzo Spires, 20, described what happened when he testified at a preliminary hearing in the case in September. That testimony came after Spires agreed to plead guilty to a reduced charge of second-degree murder and testify against his co-defendants.

According to Spires, he and the other two buyers were met outside the North Emporia house by Betts and Kyler Carriker, another defendant in the case. Spires said the three customers were told they could bring their guns inside. The customers didn’t know that Beltz, who was acting as a lookout, was hiding in a bedroom with a shotgun, prosecutors said.

Once inside the house, Spires said, one of the customers, whom he identified as Dennis O. Haynes, opened fire. The first shot struck Carriker, who fell to the ground, Spires said. Betts returned fire and ran into a back room. Beltz, mistaking him for one of the customers, fired a shotgun blast that struck Betts in the abdomen. Betts staggered back into the living room, prosecutors said, and was shot in the back of the neck before collapsing by the front door.

Prosecutor Justin Phelps told the jury in his closing argument that under Kansas law, everyone involved in the incident was guilty of first-degree felony murder because they were all taking part in an inherently dangerous felony that resulted in a death.

“Each of these defendants knew exactly the risks they were taking when they engaged in this conduct,” he said. “They’re all armed. They knew that robbery was a possibility. They all knew the risks that were associated with this.”

Defense lawyer Mark Sevart said the evidence showed that his client was to receive none of the proceeds from the marijuana sale. He said there were at least two reasons to find his client not guilty.

“First, this was not my client’s drug deal,” he said. “Second, the inherently dangerous felony was a robbery, not a drug deal.”

The jury deliberated for about four hours Monday before adjourning for the night. The trial is being held in the courtroom of District Judge Greg Waller.

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