A plea bargain has abruptly ended a trial in southeast Missouri that emerged after a dispute about who butted in line at a Walmart in the Bootheel town of Kennett grew into a legal battle tinged with racial overtones.
24-year-old Heather Ellis, a former resident of Kennett who now lives in Louisiana, reached a plea agreement with prosecutors as jurors were deliberating her fate. The agreement ended a trial that drew national media to the Bootheel, largely because Ellis claimed that prejudice was behind her arrest the evening of January 6th, 2007. Ellis, who is black, claimed she had been treated differently than other customers who butted in line at the Walmart store in Kennett.
Police say Ellis resisted arrest and became belligerent after they were called to the store. Ellis denied she cursed police or resisted arrest, but special prosecutor Morley Swingle told jurors that Ellis lied to her family and to the news media about events that night, created unneeded controversy. Ellis’ defense attorney Scott Rosenblum countered that many people shared in the blame that night that people jumped to conclusions and that the case should have been resolved long before it came to trial.
Sources say the plea agreement reached Friday evening was the same agreement prosecutors offered before the trial began Wednesday.
Ellis agreed to a suspended imposition of sentence, which means that her record will be cleared as long as she abides by the terms of the agreement. She will serve four days in the Dunklin County jail, serve one year of unsupervised probation and attend an anger management course.
Civil rights leaders brushed aside the plea agreement in which Ellis admitted guilt, insisting that Ellis was innocent. Dwight Montgomery, president of the Memphis chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, vowed that the group would return to Kennett to “bring about justice”.
Charles Isbell, KBOA, contributed to this article.