Kruse: Convicted murderer could shed 10 years of sentence ‘because he’s black’

Nov 30, 2023, 5:45 PM | Updated: 5:45 pm

kruse ellis sentencing wendi traynor...

Joshua Ellis in Pierce County Superior Court (Photo courtesy of KIRO 7)

(Photo courtesy of KIRO 7)

Joshua Ellis, a man who pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in Pierce County Superior Court for shooting his ex-girlfriend, Wendi Traynor, in 2017, took a plea deal Friday that could reduce his prison sentence by a decade.

“This happened six years ago, and people, especially in Pierce County, will remember this Wendi Traynor case, she was just 25 beautiful. A vibrant bride who was studying criminal justice,” Brandi Kruse, host of the podcast unDivided, said on The John and Shari Show. “She met a guy, they’d been dating for around a year, and she liked him enough to move to Kentucky with him where his family was. They were both in their 20s and, as relationships in your 20s go, it didn’t work out.

“She comes back home to Washington. She’s still moving into her new apartment in Milton, fresh off this relationship that had become toxic,” Kruse continued. “And that’s when he just decided if I can’t have her, no one can. He killed her right there and fled.”

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Traynor, who was 25 years old, was killed just a month after she left their home in Kentucky and moved back to the Puget Sound area. Ellis, 33, was found guilty in a jury trial in May 2019 and was sentenced to a little more than 23 years in prison.

“Her body was found a week later. And they knew right away. Family knew, friends knew. They know it was Joshua Ellis,” Kruse said. “The judge in that case gave him the maximum allowed by law. He even said during sentencing, ‘I wish I could give you more.’ He gave Ellis 20 years for second-degree murder, plus a five-year mandatory firearm enhancement.”

The judge described Traynor’s death as an “execution.”

But, in 2021, an appellate court ruled Ellis didn’t receive a fair trial, due to prosecutorial misconduct according to The News Tribune. A three-judge panel found a deputy prosecutor invoked racial stereotypes and appealed to the prejudice of the jury. This overturned the conviction, and instead of Ellis facing a fresh trial, prosecutors and the defendant’s attorney from the Department of Assigned Counsel agreed that Ellis would plead guilty to the same charge, minus a deadly weapon enhancement.

Prosecutors would then recommend he be sentenced to 10 years, three months in prison.

“He’s still confessed to doing it. So let’s go back to trial over the summer. Traynor’s family, which they’re all Washingtonians, they were ready to go back to trial. They thought that was the plan,” Kruse said. “And then they were blindsided at the beginning of September to find out that Pierce County prosecutors, without consulting them, went behind their back with the defense attorney for Joshua Ellis and offered him a deal — the lowest sentence allowed by law for second-degree murder. And they completely dropped the firearm enhancement.”

Court filings confirmed through prosecutors’ notes that Traynor’s family was strongly opposed to the plea deal, but that the agreement took into account the risks of a retrial and the fact that Ellis has no other criminal history.

Kruse described Traynor’s family as frantic in their attempts to get the sentencing judge to throw this plea deal out.

“What is the true story here? The defense attorney, who’s a public defender, her name is Mary K. High, so she’s paid for by taxpayer funds,” Kruse said. “She works for the public defender’s office in Pierce County. She’s been submitting a series of pre-sentencing memorandum that makes one argument about why the judge should give Joshua Ellis the lowest possible sentence for domestic violence, homicide. And that argument is because he’s black.

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“She is blatantly arguing in these court documents that, because Josh Ellis is a black man who lives in a country where black men are not treated equally by law enforcement, that that somehow warrants the lowest sentence as allowed by law,” Kruse continued. “And that’s not hyperbole coming from me, John. This is laid out in the documents. They’re arguing Wendi Traynor deserves less justice because she’s white. It’s truly stunning.”

High’s memorandum, filed earlier this month, included data on sentencing outcomes in Pierce County Superior Court over a 20-year period, dating back to 1999, noting that Black defendants received “88% of the standard sentencing range compared to white defendants who receive 52% (mid-range) sentences.”

“The one hope is that this judge would see reason and say, you know, there are so many elements of this crime that are egregious enough to give you a higher sentence or even just reimpose that mandatory firearm enhancement,” Kruse said. “When Joshua Ellis accepted the plea, as a standard for every defendant, they’re told by the judge they’re entering into this plea knowing that the judge doesn’t have to abide by it at sentencing. And they agreed to it. So there’s no going back. If the judge throws 20 years at him, Joshua Ellis can’t be like, I take it back. He loses his right to an appeal.”

Ellis’ sentencing hearing will be held Dec. 1 at 1:30 p.m.

Listen to John Curley and Shari Elliker weekday afternoons from 3 – 7 p.m. on KIRO Newsradio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here

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Kruse: Convicted murderer could shed 10 years of sentence ‘because he’s black’