DA: Burrell Ellis rejected misdemeanor plea, now headed to prison

To cheers from supporters, suspended DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis was escorted from a courtroom Wednesday to begin serving his 18-month prison sentence for lying to a special purpose grand jury and attempting to extort a campaign contribution from a vendor.

Judge Courtney Johnson did not give Ellis nor the district attorney what they asked. Ellis wanted five years on probation and prosecutors asked for five years in prison.

“I don’t think the county is better served by sentencing you to a long term in prison,” Johnson said.

Once he is released from prison, Ellis will spend 3 ½ years on probation.

She rejected a request from his attorney that Ellis be allowed to remain free on bond while he appealed his conviction.

As he was escorted out, supporters who filled every seat and stood along the walls and in the aisles cheered and called out to him to stay strong.

His mother cried only after she reached the hallway and had to be comforted.

Ellis wife was stoic as she received hugs from well-wishers. Outside the courthouse she thanked the high-profile leaders and ministers who spoke on his behalf and ended saying “I am very proud of my husband.”

Ellis was convicted last week, the second time he went on trial for perjury and attempting to strong-arm vendors to give to his 2012 re-election campaign. The jury of six men and six women acquitted him of five charges of extortion, attempted extortion and bribery. A jury last year could not reach a verdict so there was a mistrial.

Defense attorney Craig Gillen said the case, which started two years ago with an indictment, has been hard on Ellis’ family but he is confident there are issues that could be successfully appealed.

District Attorney Robert James said he approached Ellis about pleading guilty to a misdemeanor that would involve no time in jail and woujld eventually result in Ellis’ record being cleared.

“We did everything we could to ensure that Mr. Ellis would not be incarcerated… to ensure that Mr. Ellis would not be separated from his friends and his family,” James said.

Ellis looked directly at the judge when he made his case for mercy.

“I answered that call to become a public servant in order to serve others,” Ellis said. “I never ever sought to enrich myself personally.”

He asked the judge to consider things he had done for the county.

He didn’t admit guilt though he apologized for the damage he had done to DeKalb’s image.

“I sincerely apologize to the citizens for acts that might have cast this county in a bad light,” Ellis said.