Mass. DA drops prosecution of 1993 murder suspect of Boston detective
Sean Ellis was convicted of possessing the murder weapon and the detective's stolen service weapon
By Gintautas Dumcius | firstname.lastname@example.org
MassLive.com, Springfield, Mass.
BOSTON — Reversing course on a bid for a new trial, the Suffolk District Attorney’s Office said they’re ending the prosecution of Sean Ellis in a case involving the armed robbery and first-degree murder of a Boston police detective.
The Supreme Judicial Court, the state’s highest court, in 2016 affirmed a judge’s order for a new trial against Ellis, who had been convicted of murdering Boston Police Detective John Mulligan during a 1993 armed robbery.
Mulligan was shot five times in the face while off-duty in the Roslindale section of Boston.
“The nature of the evidence has not changed in 25 years but the strength of it has declined with time,” John Pappas, the acting Suffolk County District Attorney, said at a press conference. “Moreover, the involvement of three corrupt police detectives to varying degrees in this investigation has further compromised our ability to put the best possible case before a jury.”
Pappas announced the decision as Rachael Rollins, who won the race for Suffolk DA in November 2018, prepares to assume the office.
Boston Police Commissioner William Gross said Ellis is “culpable” for Mulligan’s murder. But he added that he agrees with Pappas’ decision.
Ellis was convicted of possessing the murder weapon and Mulligan’s stolen service weapon, and those convictions remain in place.
Ellis was tried separately from a co-defendant, Terry Patterson. Each blamed the other for the murder, according to Pappas.
Ellis served 22 years for the Mulligan murder, while Patterson served 12. Ellis was released on bail in 2015.
“Mr. Ellis was near the scene of the crime moments before it was committed, he fled the scene in its aftermath, and he possessed the murder weapon in the days that followed,” Pappas said. “ The most likely critical issue at a new trial, then, would not be whether Mr. Ellis was involved in Det. Mulligan’s homicide, but rather the level of his involvement with his convicted co-defendant, Terry Patterson.”
Ellis had said Patterson was behind the robbery and the murder. They allegedly left the scene together.
Eyewitness testimony of Ellis “crouching” by Mulligan’s police car has “faded over the decades” since the 1995 trial, according to Pappas.
The three corrupt police detectives, who were involved in the investigation to “varying degrees,” were Detectives Kenneth Acerra, Walter Robinson and John Brazil, Pappas said.
The three “disgraced themselves and tarnished their badges in a wide variety of criminal conduct unrelated to this case – the extent of which was unknown to prosecutors or defense counsel in 1995,” Pappas continued, but added that there is no reliable evidence that the three offered up false evidence.
Mulligan also had allegations of misconduct leveled against him.
According to the Boston Globe, Mulligan and two of the detectives “had been accused of participating in the armed robbery of a suspected drug dealer 17 days before Mulligan was killed.” The two detectives were Robinson and Acerra.
In 2016, after the court’s approval for a motion for a new trial for Ellis, the Suffolk DA’s office vowed to move ahead. Some uncovered documents on the police corruption could have provided Ellis’s first attorney with an alternative strategy at trial, the court ruled.
A defense “lawyer today would argue that [Mulligan] was involved, and that they had a motive to protect themselves and their criminal enterprise – even at the cost of fully investigating a fellow officer’s homicide,” Pappas said. “Unfortunately, no matter how irrelevant their corruption might be to John Mulligan’s murder, it is now inextricably intertwined with the investigation and critical witnesses in the case.”
The sentences for Ellis and Patterson are “insufficient to most of us,” Pappas said.
“But we as prosecutors must operate – always and unfailingly – through the evidence we can prove,” he added. “And the state of the evidence today makes it very unlikely that we would prevail at a new trial.”
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