FORT WAYNE – Kyrie Ellis never got a chance to go to college or start a first job after graduation. And he won’t ever get to see his kid sister grow up.
And for that, a 38-year-old Fort Wayne man will spend at least a few decades behind bars.
An Allen Superior Court judge sentenced A.C. James Jr. to 56 years in prison Friday for the shooting death of Ellis, 21, who was killed in the back seat of a moving car in February 2012. While Ellis’ friends and family sat in the courtroom, James maintained his innocence.
I give my sincere condolences for the loss of your loved one, James said while he looked at Ellis’ mother and others. But what has been put on me is not the truth.
A jury found James guilty last month of one count of murder and one count of criminal recklessness.
A dispute over a cellphone James had with one of Ellis’ cousins is believed to be what triggered the killing, according to court testimony and court records.
Ellis and two of his cousins were together in the same car when the shot was fired Feb. 3, 2012. Earlier that evening, one of Ellis’ cousins found a phone at a gas station. The phone belonged to James, who called it and asked for it back, according to court testimony.
When the group met up with James at the gas station, one of Ellis’ cousins asked James for a finder’s fee to return the phone, which James refused.
The group left the gas station with the phone. According to investigators, James pursued them in a truck.
A gunshot rang out soon thereafter, and Ellis, sitting in the back seat, told his cousins, I’m hit. He later died from a single .40-caliber gunshot wound to the back.
Prosecutors said a man had lent James the truck that was spotted at the scene of the shooting. Inside the truck, police found a spent .40-caliber shell casing, which matched the brand on an empty box of ammunition that was found inside James’ home.
On Friday, Ellis’ mother, Stacey Ellis, read a letter from her daughter that she said summed up her entire family’s feelings toward James and their loss.
Was it worth it to take him out of the world? Stacey Ellis read. Man, you put my brother on a shirt. You ripped my family apart and left us all traumatized.
The letter went on to detail Ellis’ goals and aspirations, which included going to college to get a better job, to have children and his promise to live with his younger sister to remain close to her.
God can handle you better than I can. I’m glad my brother Kyrie got justice for his case, the letter said.
James’ lawyer, Randy Fisher, argued that his client’s cocaine addiction and his stable employment at a plastics factory before the shooting should count as mitigating factors in the sentence. Fisher asked Judge John F. Surbeck to issue a 45-year sentence.
Allen County Deputy Prosecutor Steve Godfrey used James’ extensive criminal record – which includes convictions in Indiana and Georgia for crimes like battery, obstruction of justice and possession of a handgun without a license – to show he should get no leniency.
In one of those cases, Godfrey said a woman claimed she was shot at by James, who was arrested with a handgun in his possession after she called police.
But when that woman disappeared and could not be used as a witness, prosecutors could only charge James with possession and not a more serious crime.
Surbeck, noting that James had ample opportunity to address his drug addiction while in and out of the legal system, then sentenced him to 55 years on the murder conviction, plus one year on the criminal reckless conviction, to be served consecutively.
The judge also gave James 262 days’ credit for the time he has been in jail. Indiana law allows most inmates to rack up an additional day of credit for each day served with good behavior. That means James’ sentence could be cut in half.
James also said Friday he plans to appeal his conviction.
It was clear to me after the trial you were in fact guilty of this offense, Surbeck then told James. I have no concerns about the verdict the jury issued.