Sean Ellis’s Conviction Overturned, Attorney Says

Update, May 6, 12 p.m.:

Judge Carol Ball, in her 70-page ruling, agreed with Sean Ellis’s claim that “Newly discovered evidence… reveals Mulligan’s involvement in a corruption scheme with detectives who were significantly involved in the homicide investigation…. [T]hese detectives had a motive to solve Mulligan’s homicide as quickly as possible before others, investigating who might have killed Mulligan and why, uncovered the detectives’ misdeeds.”

Two of those detectives, Kenneth Acerra and Walter Robinson, were indicted on federal corruption charges two years after Ellis’s 1995 conviction, and later pleaded guilty. A third, John Brazil, testified against them in exchange for immunity. Sergeant Detective Leonard Marquardt, though implicated in some testimony, was not charged.

Those detectives were not only assigned to the 50-man task force investigating Mulligan’s death, they played key roles in gathering evidence and witness testimony. For example, the Boston police sergeant who headed the investigation testified before Judge Ball that “although they had not been ordered to do so, Detective Acerra and Sergeant Marquardt were the first to enter Mulligan’s condominium after he was killed.”

Judge Ball also found in her ruling that police had at least three references to another possible explanation for Mulligan’s murder, which were never turned over to Ellis’s trial defense attorneys.

That is the evidence I wrote of a year ago, that Detective Richard Armstead threatened to kill Mulligan because “he won’t leave my 14-year-old sister alone.”

As I wrote then, detectives quickly dismissed this suggestion, after Armstead’s adult son told them he had no younger sister. But in fact Armstead did have a foster daughter, of roughly that age at the time, as Armstead told investigators who contacted him last September, on Ball’s order.

Further discovery has since revealed two more specific references connecting Armstead to the Mulligan murder, as well as internal reports suggesting Mulligan corruption, and connections between him and Robinson and Acerra.

The District Attorney’s office argued that all of the necessary materials, including the Armstead tips, were properly disclosed to Ellis’s attorneys before the original trial. But they were unable to provide evidence supporting that claim, Ball ruled.

The DA’s spokesperson, Jake Wark, provided a statement that “we strongly disagree with the decision to vacate the jury’s verdict and we’re reviewing all of our appellate options.” However, he said that he is not yet able to discuss specific issues in the ruling.


The attorney for Sean Ellis tells me that his conviction for murdering a Boston Police Officer in 1993 has been overturned.

A spokesperson for Suffolk DA tells me he is not aware of a ruling coming down, which Ellis’s attorney, Rosemary Scapicchio, says was released at 4 p.m. Tuesday afternoon. Scapicchio tells me the 70-page decision rules, among other things, that Boston Police Department’s commissioner at the time, William Bratton, must have known that the victim, BPD officer John Mulligan, had been under anti-corruption investigation, and should have disclosed that to Ellis’s defense attorneys.

Scapicchio says that she will continue to represent Ellis if there is another trial, and says that Ellis is unlikely to plead out to avoid a retrial, if a deal is offered.

“Sean has always said he didn’t do it, and would not be able to say he did” for a plea deal, she says. “I would welcome the opportunity to try this case,” if Suffolk DA Dan Conley seeks a new trial, she says.

Scapicchio suggests that old corruption convictions of BPD Detectives Kenneth Acerra and Walter Robinson—who also helped investigate Mulligan’s murder—would be “forefront” in a retrial. I wrote about the new attempt to appeal the Ellis conviction last year.