The gunman in a 2017 robbery-turned-murder decided last fall in the middle of trial not to testify against his cousin, whom Franklin County prosecutors said orchestrated the robbery.
As a result, the murder case against the alleged instigator, 29-year-old William Knox Jr., crumbled. Knox took a plea deal and received a five-year prison sentence for aggravated robbery.
On Tuesday, Kailan Ellison, 25, faced the brunt of the consequences for the death of 24-year-old Martrise Maddox-Suddith and received a worse sentence than he would have received had he testified against Knox.
Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Andy Miller sentenced Ellison to life in prison with the opportunity for parole after serving at least 33 years. This comes after Ellison pleaded guilty in October to aggravated murder with a firearm specification.
Context:Murder trial ends in plea deal: 'I've never seen a case implode ... as this one did'
At the time of Knox's trial in November 2021, Ellison was facing an 18-years-to-life prison sentence for pleading guilty to murder (a lesser charge than aggravated murder). But the court vacated Ellison's original plea and sentence at the prosecutors' request because Ellison did not hold up his end of the bargain by testifying.
Miller justified his sentence Tuesday, saying Ellison's actions - including shooting Maddox-Suddith as he fled - were serious, but he did not believe the maximum sentence of life without the possibility of parole was warranted.
"Ultimately, the question comes down to is the defendant unredeemable," Miller said before sentencing Ellison. "Is he so beyond hope as a human being? And the truth of the matter is I don't think so."
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Victim's mother: 'My son meant something'
During the emotional and lengthy sentencing hearing Tuesday, Franklin County prosecutors and Maddox-Suddith's family asked Miller to sentence Ellison to life in prison without the opportunity for parole.
Paris Maddox, Martrise Maddox-Suddith's mother, held up pictures of her son for the judge to see.
"I know you've only ever seen my son dead," she said through tears. "This is my son, my only son. … His life was tragically cut short at 24 years old. My son meant something."
Maddox talked about her son's life, including his time as a football player at Northland High School and Kentucky State University. She and other family members described Maddox-Suddith as an entrepreneurial young man who had a vision for getting his master's degree in business and starting a marijuana business in a state where it's legal.
Ellison apologized to Maddox-Suddith's family and his own family during his sentencing hearing.
"I sincerely regret what happened that day," he said. "I wish I could take back what happened."
Thomas Hayes, an attorney for Ellison, said Ellison was only 20 years old at the time of the homicide and had virtually no criminal record.
"He made a horrible mistake," Hayes said. "This doesn't warrant saying Mr. Ellison has no value in this world and needs to be locked up (for life)."
Hayes also pointed out a different attorney represented Ellison at the time of Knox's trial and she had met with him only one time in jail, implying Ellison did not have adequate counsel on his rights and responsibilities under his agreement with prosecutors.
Prosecutor: 'He had a chance to do something'
"(Ellis) can't take it back," Franklin County Assistant Prosecutor David Zeyen said. "But in this case, judge, he had a chance to do something to start to make up for what he did."
Zeyen said Ellison could have helped hold Knox, the man who had set up the robbery, accountable. But at the last possible moment, he said, Ellison would not take the stand.
"It destroyed our case," Zeyen said.
Knox is expected to be released from prison in October 2024.
A robbery gone wrong
Knox and Maddox-Suddith were friends, according to prosecutors. Knox had known the victim for years and had bought Xanax and marijuana from him on previous occasions, according to a sentencing memo written by Hayes.
Knox planned to rob Maddox-Suddith on Nov. 19, 2017, and asked Ellison to help, Hayes said. Knox's plan was to sit in the backseat of Maddox-Suddith's vehicle and grab him from behind while Ellison would brandish a gun. During the robbery on the Northeast Side, Maddox-Suddith allegedly reached for his own gun, Hayes said, causing Ellison to react and to shoot the victim.
Ellison shot Maddox-Suddith once in the face, once in the stomach and, after the victim exited the car, twice in the back, according to prosecutors.
Ellison left Columbus shortly after the homicide to live with family in Arkansas. He was arrested March 26, 2019, in Arkansas.
After the sentencing Tuesday, Zeyen said he was OK with Ellis' sentence.
Emily Anstaett, Hayes' co-counsel for Ellison's defense, told The Dispatch they are disappointed in the sentence.
"We feel strongly the state should not have requested the sentence of life without parole. Mr. Ellison's acceptance of responsibility and the mitigating factors warranted a lower sentence," she said. "We are evaluating the merits of an appeal."
This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Columbus man gets 33 years to life in prison for robbery-turned-murder