Mistrial declared in York City Exxon murder trial
A York County judge declared a mistrial about 5 p.m. Friday in the murder trial of Mark Anthony Ellis, accused of fatally shooting a York City Exxon store clerk during a botched robbery.
Common Pleas Judge Craig T. Trebilcock declared the mistrial Friday, Jan. 11, after jurors announced they were deadlocked after about 4½ hours of deliberation.
The jury had indicated earlier Friday afternoon that they couldn't reach a unanimous decision, but the judge gave them tips and encouragement and sent them back to deliberate further, to no avail.
A date for Ellis' retrial has not yet been set.
Deliberations began around lunchtime Friday after jurors heard closing arguments from chief deputy prosecutor Chuck Murphy and defense attorney Korey Leslie.
Ellis, 30, who lived in the 600 block of West King Street but also has ties to Baltimore, is accused of fatally shooting 44-year-old clerk Aditya "Sunny" Anand during an attempted robbery at the Exxon station on the corner of West Market Street and South Richland Avenue in York City shortly after 5:30 a.m. Oct. 17, 2017.
He remains in York County Prison without bail, charged with first- and second-degree murder and attempted robbery.
Jurors repeatedly watched surveillance footage of the homicide during the three-day trial in York County Court. In it, the killer — wearing an Adidas baseball cap and with his hood up — walked into the store, approached the counter and spoke to Anand.
In response, Anand grabbed two boxes of Newport 100s, put them on the counter and began to ring them up. During trial, jurors learned that's Ellis' preferred brand of cigarettes.
First shot a warning: As Anand was working the cash register, the shooter pulled out a pistol and fired a warning shot over Anand's shoulder, clearly rattling the clerk, who then seemed unable to open the register. There is no audio.
Anand tried to dart out a side employee door that was behind the counter and right next to where he was standing, the video showed, which is when the would-be robber shot Anand.
The victim ran out of the building and collapsed a few feet away from it. The failed robber then fled the scene, heading up Mason Avenue, a city alley behind St. Rose of Lima Church, testimony revealed. At trial, jurors learned that was the route Ellis and one of his girlfriends used to walk to and from the Exxon from their home.
Murphy, in his closing, described Anand's attempts to open the register as frantic.
Leslie told jurors the video is "horrifying to watch."
Jurors didn't hear about the armed robbery Ellis and an accomplice committed in December 2014 at the American Mart on East Philadelphia Street. Ellis obtained Newport 100s during that robbery, according to court records.
Presiding Common Pleas Judge Craig T. Trebilcock ruled the 2014 robbery was inadmissible because too much time had passed between robberies, and because of "the lack of distinctive and identical circumstances to constitute a virtual (criminal) signature" that could be linked to Ellis, court records state.
Closing arguments: During his closing argument, Leslie argued there is no forensic evidence that definitively ties Ellis to the homicide. Police didn't find his fingerprints or DNA at the scene, and the gun used to kill Anand has never been found.
The roughly three dozen .38 Special bullet cartridges inside a Crown Royal whisky bag — found hidden at the York City home of one of Ellis' girlfriends — could not conclusively be matched to the two mutilated .38 slugs collected, a forensic expert testified.
"I know some of you might think he did it," Leslie told jurors. "You might think that, and that's fine. But have (prosecutors) proven it beyond a reasonable doubt?"
Leslie argued the case against his client wasn't proven and that the testimony two ex-girlfriends who provided damning evidence against Ellis isn't trustworthy.
"Science doesn't lie, but people do," he told the jury, and hit hard on the fact that the surveillance video showed the killer leaning his hands on the counter, yet his fingerprints weren't found on it and neither was his DNA.
He dismissed ex-girlfriend Tabitha Miller's identification of Ellis as the killer, based on the surveillance video and photos. She told jurors she and Ellis were involved for about nine years and that she's positive it's him in the surveillance footage.
Credibility challenged: Leslie tore into the credibility of Ellis' live-in girlfriend at the time, Jessica Soder, who testified Ellis told her he threw her mother's stolen .38 Special off the Beaver Street bridge and got rid of his jacket and distinctive Nike Air Penny IV sneakers by throwing the shoes in the water and the jacket in a trash can down the street from their home.
Soder also testified that when she woke up shortly before sunrise the morning of the homicide, Ellis was awake and dressed, and told her he'd been to Turkey Hill on Richland Avenue that morning to get cigarettes. Jurors during trial saw video footage from the Turkey Hill that morning in which the same man who killed Anand is seen.
But Leslie said Soder is a liar, a thief and a manipulator who is trying to get herself out of trouble by making up a story on the witness stand. Soder is currently charged with stealing her mother's .38 Special revolver 16 days before the homicide.
"There is so much doubt in this case," he told the jury.
ID'd by ex: But Murphy argued that Miller knew Ellis intimately and is absolutely certain it's him in the surveillance footage.
"If you find Tabitha Miller's testimony credible, you ... can find the defendant guilty," he said.
As far as Soder goes, he said, jurors could determine her credibility by "squaring it with other evidence" in the case.
That includes her testimony that she found a Crown Royal whisky bag full of bullets in their shared dresser drawer and told Ellis to get rid of it. Police later found a Crown Royal bag full of .38 Special bullets hidden in the home of Ellis' other girlfriend, who was pregnant with his child at the time.
Also, Murphy told jurors, Soder's testimony that Ellis ditched his sneakers and jacket after seeing police search a home across the street the day of the homicide can be confirmed by the fact that police did search that home in relation to the homicide, but the lead went nowhere.
"There would be no reason for Jessica Soder to know that unless she actually saw it happen," he argued. "Why would (Ellis) have that reaction after seeing police activity? ... It's called consciousness of guilt."
— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.