INDIANAPOLIS – Having already taken a plea deal in reference to her own involvement in one of the biggest drug rings in Howard County history, Melissa Baird took to the stand in shackles on Thursday and testified in the drug trial against Kokomo residents Michael O’Bannon, 34, Jason Reed, 50, Shaun Myers, 36, and Michael Jones, 37.
Throughout her morning testimony, Baird – who was originally arrested on May 2, 2018 on a charge of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute controlled substances – covered a variety of topics, from her romantic relationship with Reed and participating in various drug deals with Terre Haute resident Derrick Owens to the decision by local kingpin Reggie Balentine to send her down to Georgia with money in exchange for a large amount of methamphetamine.
Feb. 24, 2018
As a former romantic partner to Reed, Baird began her testimony talking about their relationship and how Reed would solely get methamphetamine from Balentine in order to complete some of the couple’s drug sales.
Owens and fellow Terre Haute resident Michael Reynolds – who died in 2018 – were two of those customers, Baird told the court, and she also testified that she would often hold the methamphetamine in the passenger seat as Reed drove down south to meet the two men.
Baird also stated that Reed and she would drive down to Terre Haute with drugs supplied by Balentine at least once or twice a week during the time Owens and Reynolds purchased methamphetamine from Reed.
Owens paid in cash, Baird testified, while Reynolds often paid in firearms.
And then came Feb. 24, 2018, Baird told the court, which was the day that surveillance footage showed Balentine meet up with Owens at an Indianapolis Bob Evans restaurant for an alleged drug deal.
Baird testified that Reed asked Balentine to go complete the deal because the couple wanted Balentine to “feel him out,” referring to Owens, who Baird began suspecting of possibly being a confidential informant.
That drug deal ended in a Hendricks County traffic stop, the seizure of methamphetamine and the arrest of Owens’ father, Dennis.
And after Reynolds passed away in March 2018, Reed continued to pressure Owens to pay the drug debt owed to Reed because Reed also owed Balentine money, Baird testified.
April 23-25, 2018
Reed was arrested on March 11, 2018, after crashing his vehicle into a residence in the 800 block of East Alto Road and leading police on a short foot pursuit.
In her testimony on Thursday, Baird spoke for several minutes about the days after Reed’s arrest, saying that she began to spend a lot of time at Balentine’s residence and even began storing drugs for him at her house.
During an incident in April 2018, Baird said that she even acted as a drug courier for Balentine, boarding a Megabus in Indianapolis headed for Atlanta, Georgia with over $81,000 dollars attached to her waist.
Surveillance footage played in court on Thursday showed Baird getting out of Balentine’s vehicle at the bus terminal on the morning of April 23, 2018, and more surveillance conducted by law enforcement officers in Atlanta show Baird being picked up by Pierre Riley — who police believe distributed drugs to the Kokomo area from his residence in Macon, Georgia.
Baird and Riley then went to an Atlanta hotel, Baird told the court, where they counted the money with the use of a scratch piece of paper.
The next day, Baird boarded another Megabus bound for Indiana. This time, she had a large amount of drugs packed away in an orange backpack, she testified.
While this was all going on, surveillance officers were watching nearly every move, and ended up conducting an interdiction stop on the bus in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Tennessee Highway Patrol Trooper Richard Thomas was the K9 officer who helped search the bus, and he testified on Thursday that his K9 alerted for narcotics in the backpack that Baird had left behind when she exited during the interdiction stop.
Inside the backpack was over 3,000 grams of methamphetamine and around 500 grams of cocaine, Thomas told the court.
Once the backpack was seized, Baird and the rest of the passengers were allowed back on the bus to complete the trip, but Baird testified that she became scared and ended up stopping in Nashville to board a Greyhound bus back to Indiana.
May 1, 2018
On the morning of May 1, 2018, officers conducted several raids throughout Kokomo and even at Riley’s Georgia residence.
On Thursday afternoon, the state called on several law enforcement officers that participated in those raids, particularly when it came to the ones conducted at the residences of Balentine, O’Bannon and Jones.
Prosecutor Michelle Brady also presented dozens of pieces of evidence that were seized in those raids, including multiple cell phones, scales, loaded firearms and several controlled substances removed from O’Bannon’s residence.
From Jones’ residence, police removed a money counter, firearms with various amounts of ammunition, controlled substances and several digital scales.
The state continues its evidence portion of the trial on Friday, on what will be the ninth full day of testimony.