Court stories

James receives 50 years for murder

MT. VERNON — A Mt. Vernon man was sentenced to 50 years in the Illinois Department of Corrections Friday afternoon for the first-degree murder charge stemming from the 2011 death of Charles Ellis.

Damondros Q. James, 24, listened in court as Judge Barry Vaughn explained his reasoning for the sentence. The judge’s decision comes nearly six years after Ellis’ body was found slumped over the wheel of his cab while it was parked near Sixth and Bell streets on May 31, 2011.

James pleaded guilty to first-degree murder on Dec. 19, 2014. He will also serve three years of mandatory supervised release.

Mt. Vernon Police Capt. Jeff Bullard was first called to the stand by Assistant Attorney General William Bryant. Bullard described the details of the case and the information leading up to the arrest of James and three other defendants, Mark Taylor Jr., Demandre Black and Christopher Wells, who are still awaiting trial in Jefferson County Court.

In his testimony, Bullard said a cab driver from another Mt. Vernon company had abandoned a call for a fare when he believed the request was a robbery attempt. The number was the same as the one dialed to request Ellis’ cab, a request that had not been completed and one where the office lost radio contact with the driver.

“That would have gone along with a neighbor’s testimony that they heard a scuffle,” Bullard said.

Bobby Ellis described his father on the stand as a caring and good-natured person who was willing to help anyone in need.

“My dad, he was an easy going guy,” Ellis said. “He would do everything he could for anybody.”

In his victim impact statement, Bobby Ellis requested the maximum 60 years’ prison time for James. He said the grief of losing his father has caused him sleepless nights because he can still hear his brother on the phone telling him “that Dad has been shot.”

Defense attorney Aaron Hopkins called members of James’ family to the stand, who all testified to his character, saying the boy nicknamed the “Da Man” was always taking care of his family. They pleaded with the court to hand down the minimum sentence of 20 years as a second chance for James.

“My son was not raised in a bad environment,” his mother Tatanisha Anderson said. “He was raised in a good home.”

In his allocution statement, James expressed his remorse for the actions to the Ellis family. He said he fell into the wrong crowd and wished he could go back and change his actions.

“I hope you can see me for the man I am and not for who they make me out to be,” James said.

Before he delivered the sentencing, Vaughn said he understood the stance of both families represented in court. He said his decision was based on several factors, including the use of a firearm and whether James has yet to agree to testify in the other pending co-defendant cases.

“There are second chances, but you didn’t afford Mr. Ellis a second chance,” Vaughn said.

Vaughn said he also sees the sentence as a possible deterrent to future violent crime in Mt. Vernon.

“It may not be exactly so, but it seems that every other month there is a murder in Mt. Vernon,” he said. “And ones with multiple defendants.”

A motion to withdraw James’ guilty plea had been filed in February. Hopkins said in court that James had planned to continue with the sentencing hearing. James has 30 days to file an appeal.

Taylor guilty

MT. VERNON — Mark Taylor has been found guilty of the first-degree murder of 75-year-old cab driver Charles Ellis.

The jury deliberated for three hours Tuesday before handing down the verdict in the early afternoon.

Taylor, 25, of Mt. Vernon was one of four suspects arrested after the May 31, 2011, shooting death of cab driver Charles Ellis, who was found inside his taxi slumped over the wheel. During the early morning hours, Ellis picked up a fare from a number later identified as belonging to Demandre Black.

In what Assistant Attorney General William Bryant referred to as a “botched” robbery attempt, Taylor reportedly struck Ellis in the face repeatedly, causing blunt force trauma.

Two other suspects‚— Christopher Wells and Damandros James — later opened fire, with shell casings from Wells’ .380 later discovered at the scene. The .22 James allegedly used was never recovered, but police testified that ammunition was found in a backpack at his residence, according to court testimony.

Three of the suspects — Taylor, Wells and Black — were arrested that night. James was later apprehended later.

Throughout the six-day trial, the jury heard testimony from several state witnesses, including Wells, who had testified about plans to rob a taxi cab driver that night, which had been first initiated by Taylor.

Other testimony included Taylor’s confessions to a fellow inmate, Princeton Turner, shortly after his arrest and another written confession to Stacy Garrison. In the second confession, Taylor reportedly sent a note to a woman who he thought was a member of the Ellis family in 2012 when she was detained in the Jefferson County Jail.

Taylor’s attorney Nathan Rowland had urged the jurors to consider the credibility of some of the state’s testimony and what they may have to gain for their cooperation. He also pointed to court testimony of the other individuals involved in the case.

“Mark Taylor didn’t kill anybody; there’s no question,” Rowland said. “Mark Taylor didn’t have a gun; there’s no question. Damondros James and Christopher Wells were the ones wielding the guns and firing the shots.”

During his closing arguments, Bryant stressed the importance of seeing the different pieces that were at play on the night of Ellis’ murder.

“When you put it all together, it forms a wall,” Bryant said.

After the trial, the Ellis family expressed their relief that the long case had reached its conclusion.

“It’s been a long six years,” the victim’s son Bobby Ellis said, and his wife Carla agreed, adding: “Now the healing can begin.”

Taylor’s next court appearance is set for early next year. A status for sentencing was scheduled for 1 p.m. on Jan. 12.