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Life sentence slashed by Fourth Department.

Byline: Bennett Loudon

A state appellate court has significantly reduced a potential life sentence for a chronic shoplifter who stole to support a drug habit.

Jordan J. Ellison, 50, was convicted in January 2013 of fourth-degree criminal possession of stolen property and two counts of third-degree burglary.

State Supreme Court Justice Thomas E. Moran determined that Ellison was a persistent felony offender with at least three felony convictions and sentenced him to 20 years to life in prison.

In January 2015, the Appellate Division of state Supreme Court "in the interest of justice" reduced the sentence to 15 years to life the minimum allowed under the law for a persistent felon.

In a decision released Friday, the Fourth Department vacated the persistent felon finding and reduced the sentence to 3 to seven years, to be served concurrently, for both counts of third-degree burglary, and two to four years consecutive to the other sentence for the possession of stolen property charge.

The convictions were for separate shoplifting incidents that happened five days apart. In the first incident, Ellison stole two garbage bags full of clothes from the Macy's store at The Marketplace mall in Henrietta. Ordinarily, the crime would not have been a felony, but Ellison had been banned from the store, and returning automatically elevated the charge.

In the second incident, Ellison took 61 shirts on hangers worth about $2,000 from the Gap store at Greece Ridge Mall in Greece.

Initially, Ellison sat in jail for so long before his case was adjudicated that there were no drugs in his system, which prevented him from having the case moved to drug court. If Ellison was accepted and successfully completed the requirements of the drug court, his sentence would have been substantially less.

The prosecution offered a plea deal of two to four years in prison if he pleaded guilty, but Ellison declined the offer and was convicted after a jury trial.

It was Moran who determined that Ellison was a persistent felon without any request by the Monroe County District Attorney's Office.

During oral arguments on Nov. 27, Ellison's appellate lawyer, Donald M. Thompson, of Easton Thompson Kasperek Shiffrin LLP, called his client "a serial petit larcenist."

He argued that treating Ellison as a persistent felony offender "was a misuse, or an overuse" of the persistent felony offender statute.

"Really he's a persistent misdemeanor offender, but the Legislature is not seeing fit to enact a provision for sentencing in that regard," Thompson said.

Thompson acknowledged that Ellison has 58 arrests, including a few felonies, but none involved violence. In some cases, the crime rose to felony status because of the value of the items stolen barely reached a threshold.

And the thefts were always to obtain property he could exchange for drugs to support his addiction.

Justice Stephen K. Lindley noted that the Macy's arrest was a felony only because Ellison had previously been banned from the store.

"I don't think he's ever committed an act of violence," Lindley said.

"In a civilized society, giving a shoplifter a life sentence is a heavy thing to do to somebody for stealing and not committing any acts of violence," Lindley said.

The only time Ellison was charged with a violent crime was when a co-defendant assaulted someone; Ellison stayed there to help the victim and he got arrested because he was till there when police arrived, Thompson said.

"He's not a violent individual," Thompson told the panel. "He's never robbed anybody. He's never used a weapon."

Assistant Monroe County District Attorney Daniel Gross told the panel: "The fact that he's non-violent doesn't disqualify him from persistent felony findings." (585) 232-2035

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Publication:Daily Record (Rochester, NY)
Date:Dec 27, 2018
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