Thursday, September 24, 2009

Milwaukee's North Side Strangler suspect pleads "Not Guilty"

Milwaukee’s North Side Strangler, allegedly Walter E. Ellis, was arraigned during his preliminary hearing yesterday. His not guilty plea to the seven counts of 1st degree intentional homicide came after a preliminary hearing during which Ellis’ DNA match with the killer’s and the strangulation death of all seven women, played a crucial role in the state’s argument that Ellis should be tried for the murders.

The preliminary hearing featured a parade of 18 current and retired Milwaukee police detectives who testified about the crime scenes, the gathering of DNA evidence and its transport to the State Crime Laboratory.

Milwaukee County Medical Examiner Christopher Happy testified that the cause of death in each case was strangulation.

The state moved into evidence reports from the lab that matched DNA from the crime scenes to DNA taken from Ellis' cheeks on Sept. 8 after he had been arrested.

At the end of testimony, Ellis' attorney, Russell J.A. Jones, requested that the case be dismissed because the only evidence offered was that Ellis' DNA was found at the crime scenes - along with DNA from other men, in some instances. At best, Jones said, the state showed that Ellis had sex with six of the victims. In one case, his DNA was on a small can of pepper spray found under the victim.

Assistant District Attorney Mark Williams argued that it was not a coincidence or an accident that Ellis' DNA was found on or near all seven victims, over a 21-year period, and that all had died by virtually the same manner. Williams said the "only reasonable inference" was that Ellis committed the crimes.

Circuit Judge Rebecca Dallet ordered Ellis bound over for a May trial and also ordered no contact with his “girlfriend,” Tressie Johnson by any means except through his attorney. Johnson was arrested with Ellis September 5, but released a few days later.

Among the many relatives attending the preliminary hearing were Florence McCormick’s father and daughter. After detectives showed that she was found tied to a utility tub in a basement, nude except for a pair of socks because the killer had stuffed her underwear and pants down her mouth, they cried, recovering enough to give the following statements:

"I'm upset that he said 'not guilty,' but I'm glad they're putting him on trial," "I'm upset that he said 'not guilty,' but I'm glad they're putting him on trial," said Korona Richmond, whose mother, Florence McCormick, was murdered in 1995.

"What I want to know is, why did he kill my daughter?" asked Cornelius Thomas, after the hearing produced no hint of that answer.

Irene Smith’s older brother Sammy said "It's like a dream come true but like a nightmare all over again. It's like bringing her funeral back to the surface. I don't know how to deal with it, if I should be happy, sad, mad . . . I'm glad the killer's no longer on the streets. Who knows when he was going to kill next?"

Smith was killed in the fall of 1992 after Ellis bribed his way out of a halfway house, according to prosecutors.

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