Exxon murder trial: Bag of bullets connected to 2 of defendant's girlfriends
Two ex-girlfriends of accused murderer Mark Anthony Ellis testified against him Thursday morning, and jurors learned police found bullets in the home of a third girlfriend that are consistent with the one that killed Exxon clerk Aditya "Sunny" Anand.
Ellis, 30, of the York and Baltimore areas, remains in York County Prison without bail, charged with first- and second-degree murder and attempted robbery for the Oct. 17, 2017, shooting death of Anand at the Exxon on the corner of West Market Street and Richland Avenue in York City.
Longtime ex Tabitha Miller took the stand first on Thursday, Jan. 10 — the second day of Ellis' trial in York County Court — and told jurors she and Ellis were in a relationship for about nine years that ended in March 2017.
She testified that when she saw the first surveillance photo released of Anand's killer, she thought it was Ellis, but she said people told her she was being paranoid. When subsequent surveillance photos were released to the public, she said "it just confirmed it" for her.
"That was definitely him," she told jurors — same body shape, same facial hair, same "ugly" khaki-green jacket. "I know that's him."
.38 Special stolen: Also testifying were Jessica Soder and her mother, Debora Soder.
At the time of Anand's slaying, Ellis lived with Jessica Soder in the 600 block of West King Street, not far from the Exxon station.
Debora Soder told jurors her daughter came to dinner on Sept. 30, 2017, accompanied by her boyfriend. The elder Soder said her daughter introduced Ellis to her as "Damien" and didn't provide his last name, but she now knows the man was actually Ellis.
The topic of firearms came up over dinner, Debora Soder said, and she told Ellis she kept a revolver in her nightstand for protection.
When she opened her nightstand the next day, her .38 Special and ammunition were gone, she testified.
Ellis is not charged in the theft of that revolver — but Jessica Soder is, although she denies taking the gun.
The younger Soder told jurors that she initially lied to police and said Ellis was with her at the time Anand was gunned down. She admitted lying during two interviews before implicating Ellis in her third police interview.
Protecting Ellis? She said she wanted to protect Ellis because she loved him.
Jessica Soder now maintains that when she woke up the morning of Oct. 17, 2017, it was before sunrise and Ellis was already awake and dressed. She testified he told her he'd gone to Turkey Hill Minit Market on Richland Avenue that morning to buy his brand of cigarettes, Newport 100s.
Her statement is significant because jurors have seen video surveillance footage of Anand's killer — both of the homicide itself and of the killer walking into Turkey Hill minutes before the homicide occurred.
The Exxon video, which has no audio, shows a man approach the counter and face Anand, who grabs two packs of Newport 100s, puts them on the counter and starts to ring them into the cash register.
While he's doing that, the would-be robber pulls out a gun and points it at Anand, unnerving the clerk, who then has trouble opening the register. The gunman fires a warning shot over Anand's shoulder.
After a few seconds of being unable to open the register, Anand tries to flee out an employee-only side door that's next to him.
Fatal shot: And that's when the shooter fires one more round, which went through Anand's left arm and into his chest, police said. The video shows Anand running out of the building, then collapsing in the parking lot.
Jessica Soder also testified that after the homicide, she and Ellis watched police search a home across the street, which prompted Ellis to get rid of his jacket and his distinctive Nike Air Penny IV sneakers.
She said he put the sneakers in a trash bag and threw them into a body of water, and that he put the jacket in a trash bag and threw it in a trash receptacle down the block.
She also testified that Ellis told her he threw the gun off the Beaver Street bridge. York City Detective Andy Baez said the creek was dredged in February 2018, but the gun was never found.
Jessica Soder also told jurors she found a Crown Royal whisky bag full of bullets in their shared dresser drawer prior to the homicide and said she told Ellis to get rid of it.
Baez testified that about two weeks after the homicide, police searched the apartment of a York City woman. Jessica Soder told jurors that woman was pregnant at the time with Ellis' baby and that he spent time with her as well as with Soder.
Bag of bullets: In the water-heater closet in the woman's bathroom, police found a Crown Royal whisky bag that contained unspent .38-caliber bullet cartridges, according to Baez. When police went to the woman's home to search it, Ellis was there, the detective said.
State police Master Trooper Todd Neumyer, a forensic firearm and tool-mark examiner, told jurors the mutilated bullets collected from Anand and the Exxon are "consistent in construction and configuration" to at least one of the rounds of ammunition in the Crown Royal bag. The spent slugs were too mutilated to make a further determination, he said.
No spent shell casings were found at the scene, leading police to believe the weapon used to kill Anand was a revolver, which does not automatically eject spent shell casings.
Under cross-examination by defense attorney Korey Leslie, Neumyer confirmed that the rounds in the bag could be fired from a .357 Magnum, not just from a .38.
Leslie tore into Jessica Soder during his cross-examination of her, getting her to admit she's guilty of several thefts and that she lied to family and friends while in York County Prison, falsely telling them she was pregnant in the hope that someone would post her bail.
Chief deputy prosecutor Chuck Murphy and deputy prosecutor Erin Bloxham are expected to wrap up their case Friday morning. Common Pleas Judge Craig T. Trebilcock is presiding.
— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.