SCLC goes public with complaints about Walmart line-cutting trial - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

SCLC goes public with complaints about Walmart line-cutting trial

By Ben Watson - bio | email | Twitter | Facebook

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC-TV) - Trial may be over for a Missouri woman accused of cutting in line at a Walmart store, but members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference say their battle for justice in the case is just beginning.

The case revolves around Heather Ellis, a Missouri teacher who went on trial last month following charges she cut in front of a customer in a Walmart line. When confronted about it, she got into an altercation with store staffers and police.

Ellis has always claimed that she was the one who was attacked. She was facing prison time when, about two hours into jury deliberations last month, she made a deal to plead guilty to lesser charges.

"Does it bring me closure? It gives me a clearer mind that I know my story got out, and I feel good about that," Ellis said after her trial.

But Thursday, at the National Civil Rights Museum, representatives from the SCLC and the Baptist Ministerial Association called a news conference to criticize the trial.  The Rev. Dwight Montgomery said the judge and the original prosecutor in the trial acted improperly.

"Based upon what occurred at the trial it should be declared a mistrial," Montgomery said.

In a letter to the state's commission on retirement, removal and discipline of judges, SCLC members accuse prosecutor Stephen Sokoloff of misconduct, and accuse Judge Joe Satterfield of making comments designed to prejudice the jury.  The letter claims Satterfield's demeanor was designed to insure a conviction.

"The main thing is to show the public what actually happened, and that's what we're doing: asking this commission to investigate and they have a responsibility of doing that," Montgomery said. "They must do that."

SCLC officials say they are in the process of collecting other complaints about the judicial system in Dunklin County, Missouri, and plan to share that information with the states governor.

Meanwhile, as a result of her guilty plea, Ellis was given one year of unsupervised probation and will have to spend four days in the Dunklin County jail.  She will also be required to take anger management classes.

SCLC members are hoping to get her exonerated.

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