A man who claimed he feared for his life in a traffic stop that ended with the shooting death of a police officer and the wounding of another was acquitted Wednesday of aggravated murder and attempted murder.
After 10 hours of deliberations, Brooklyn jurors convicted Robert Ellis only on three counts of weapons possession. He now faces five to fifteen years in prison -- far less than the life in prison without parole that he could have received for murder.
Two others were accused in the case but had yet to hear whether they would be convicted. Ellis, Dexter Bostic and Lee Woods were each tried before separate juries because the men made statements implicating each other.
Prosecutors had argued the three acted as a team to shoot the officers because they were caught with a stolen SUV and with illegal weapons in the vehicle. They said Bostic shot and killed Officer Russel Timoshenko while Ellis simultaneously shot now-Detective Herman Yan, and Woods was the driver.
But attorneys for Ellis and Woods each claimed their client was the driver and therefore could not have fired at the officers.
Timoshenko, 23, was hit twice in the face. Yan was shot in the chest as he approached the other side of the SUV. His bullet-resistant vest saved his life.
"I am stunned and disappointed by the verdict," said Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly. "My prayers are with the Timoshenko family as they contend with this ordeal." Prosecutors said they could not comment while the other two cases are ongoing.
The July 2007 shootings after a routine Brooklyn traffic stop sparked a manhunt that spanned several states and didn't end until two of the men were captured in the Pocono Mountains.
Ellis and Bostic, 34-year-old roommates, were driven to Pennsylvania and planned to hide in the woods and live off peanut butter and crackers, prosecutors said. They were captured after about four days in a patch of trees near Interstate 80. Woods, 29 at the time, did not go with them. Three guns were found in the SUV.
Ellis took the stand in his own defense, saying he was scared for his life because he lived near where Sean Bell was shot on his wedding day. Bell was unarmed when the 23-year-old died in a hail of 50 police bullets outside a seedy strip club. At a non-jury trial, a judge acquitted three of the shooters in that case of state charges that included manslaughter, assault and reckless endangerment.
Ellis testified he worried he'd be shot by the officers if he said the wrong thing. His defense attorney Danielle Eaddy claimed Woods was the shooter and law enforcers bent on blaming her client refused to take evidence into account.
But prosecutors said Ellis wouldn't have skipped town had he been the driver. Woods stayed at his girlfriend's house after the shooting and was taken in for questioning before the other two were found.
Jurors watched surveillance tape from the shooting and heard Yan's 911 call. Yan testified, showing his scars from surgery to the jury. Timoshenko's mother also testified briefly in the case. Tatyana Timoshenko told jurors: "I had only just one son."
The jury hearing Woods' case was still deliberating Wednesday, while attorneys in the Bostic trial had yet to finish closing arguments. If convicted on all charges, both men could face life in prison without the possibility of parole.