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After 22 years in prison, a man convicted of the 1993 murder of a Boston detective is now free on bail.
Sean Ellis had been serving a mandatory life sentence without parole when a judge last month ordered a new trial and set his bail at $50,000. Following a fundraising campaign, Ellis' family on Wednesday was finally able to pay that bail.
Ellis, now 41, appeared to be trembling as he walked out of the courthouse and spoke to reporters.
"I'd like to thank the honorable Judge Ball for giving me the opportunity of freedom. I'd like to thank my family and my supporters, everybody that helped me and stood by me and helped to raise the bail," Ellis said. "And I'd like to thank my attorney who worked hard and tirelessly to make this day possible. I'd like some time to reacquaint myself with my family and so thank you for everything."
Ellis' mother, Mary Ellis, was almost speechless with joy.
"I'm just thankful that he's free," she said.
Ellis was 19 years old when in 1993 he was arrested for murder of Boston Police Detective John Mulligan, who was shot five times in the face as he sat in his car while working a security detail outside a Roslindale drug store. There was no physical evidence tying Ellis to the case. His first two trials ended with hung juries. He was convicted in the third trial.
In ordering a new trial last month, Judge Ball ruled exculpatory evidence was withheld from the defense. She also ruled that newly discovered evidence about the criminal activity of key Boston detectives involved in the case indicate Ellis did not get a fair trial.
"All I can say is that justice is smiling today," said Elaine Murphy, who started the "Justice for Sean Ellis" campaign. Murphy met Ellis and his family more than 30 years ago when she lived in Needham and Ellis was a METCO student attending elementary school with her son.
"He's really not become jaded. He's still a sweet, sweet person at his core," Murphy said of Ellis' time in prison. "He's done nothing but better himself. He's become a paralegal, he's a certified paralegal. He's become a leader in peer counseling, he's had all sorts of coaching and training."
Sean Ellis' younger sister, Sharday, was just 3 years old when he went prison. She said no big celebrations were planned for his return home.
"We're just taking things really easy, we're trying to make things comfortable for him, help him through this transition," she said. "We just want to enjoy the fact that he's home and get a chance to love him and reconnect with him."
The Suffolk County district attorney's office has not yet decided whether to appeal Judge Ball’s ruling. They have until Thursday to do so.
Ellis' attorney, Rosemary Scapicchio, insists Ellis was wrongly convicted and says there may be more cases like Ellis' out there.
"There was a systematic problem with the Boston Police Department in the late '80s, early '90s, and it screams out for an investigation to determine how this could have happened to someone like Sean," Scapicchio said, "because if we don't figure out how it happened, we can't insure that it won't happen again."
Scapicchio says the Ellis case highlights the need for an independent police civilian review board.
This segment aired on June 3, 2015.
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