High court upholds Ellis ruling

Published 3:00 am Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Alabama Supreme Court has for a second time denied a motion by the Pike County District Attorney’s Office to overrule a judge’s decision in the case of accused rapist Andre Ellis.

The motion challenged Circuit Judge Jeff Kelley’s jurisdiction and several of the issues he raised in a May 2013 order overturning Ellis’ rape conviction and asked for a writ of mandamus to set aside Kelley’s decision.

“It is what it is,” said District Attorney Tom Anderson. “We’re disappointed, and we respectfully disagree … but we know where we stand and we’ll muscle forward providing the victims are willing.”

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Ellis had been convicted in January 2013 of two counts of rape and one count of second-degree burglary and sentenced to concurrent terms of 85 years for each rape and 20 years for the burglary charge in connection with two reported rapes that took place in March 2012 in a local mobile home park.

In March, Ellis moved for a new trial, alleging among other things that the prosecution had failed to disclose crucial evidence in the trial. Kelley held a hearing on the motion that May and set aside the original verdict, ordering a new trial for Ellis.

The District Attorney’s Office appealed that order, first to the Court of Criminal Appeals and then to the Alabama Supreme Court. Both the Court of Criminal Appeals and the Supreme Court previously had dismissed the District Attorney’s petition based on timeliness issues, saying the District Attorney’s Office failed to file the appeal of Kelley’s ruling within a seven-day window mandated by law. Their motion was filed in June 2013.

However, on March 31 the Supreme Court granted the state’s application for a rehearing and accepted briefs and responses in June.

In issuing its opinion on Tuesday, the Court wrote:

“The threshold issue for our review in this case is whether the State has presented this Court with rare and/or exceptional circumstances justifying the issuance of a writ directing the trial court to set aside its order granting Ellis’s motion for a new trial. We conclude that it has not.”

In its 34-page ruling the Court analyzes several points raised by prosecutors regarding Kelley’s decision, specifically addressing an interview with one of the victim’s then-boyfriend, which was not disclosed to the defense, and a search warrant which was executed on another individual’s residence. “We’re disappointed in particular that they did not parse and delve into all the issues we raised,” Anderson said. “They looked into a statement and a search warrant … and we felt like we addressed other issues, particularly relating to the other victim.”

In its ruling, the Court wrote: “The trial court in this case was clothed with the discretion to grant a new trial and, in fact, had a duty to do so upon its finding of a Brady violation … the trial court is also clothed with discretion in imposing the appropriate sanctions, i.e., the grant of a new trial, based on its findings of discovery violations.”

Anderson said prosecutors will revisit with the two victims to determine if they are willing to pursue another trial.

“We’ll talk to the victims to see if they’re ready to go forward with this again,” he said. “If they are, we’ll strap on our chin straps and do it again.”

Ellis remains in prison where he is serving a 22-year sentence on an unrelated theft of property conviction.