DA: Billerica man chauffeured his crack dealer to Northeastern student's murder
A Suffolk Superior Court judge today set bail at $100,000 for a Billerica truck driver and real-estate broker who allegedly hung around outside the Parker Hill Avenue apartment where, police say, his dealer murdered a Northeastern student.
Michael Balba, 55, was a frequent customer of crack dealer Cornell Smith, the Suffolk County District Attorney's office says. Smith was indicted Friday for the murder of Rebecca Payne, a woman prosecutors say had no connection at all with Smith, except for living in the same building as the woman Smith really wanted to kill. Balba was indicted for perjury for allegedly lying at least four times to that grand jury.
The DA's office provided this account:
[Assistant District Attorney Ian] Polumbaum told the court that Balba knew Smith as "Jeff" around the time of Payne's murder and would call him several times per week to buy crack cocaine from him. On the night of May 19 and early morning hours of May 20, 2008, Polumbaum said, Balba met Smith and, at Smith’s direction, picked up a third person and travelled to the area of Parker Hill Avenue. In return, Balba was given a quantity of crack cocaine and told to wait across the street and smoke it.
It was at this time, Polumbaum said, that Smith - out on bail on a drug charge - entered Payne’s building apartment and committed the fatal shooting.
The gunfire was heard by numerous people in and around the building. None called 911. Polumbaum said Balba heard the gunshots as well and even remarked on them. Shortly afterward, he drove Smith and the third man from the scene. Video surveillance imagery from the area depicts a vehicle similar to Balba's Ford Explorer driving away from the scene. Cell phone records link him to Smith demonstrate his frequent travel from Billerica to Boston, Polumbaum said.
The third man has not been identified.
"Jeff" was the name Smith used during a drug deal three months after Payne's murder. He was arrested for that, pleaded guilty and is now in a federal prison in Wisconsin on a 12 1/2 year sentence.