published Friday, October 21st, 2011

Johnathan Ellison calls no defense witnesses

TRENTON, Ga. — Without calling any witnesses or presenting any evidence, attorneys for a 19-year-old man on trial for murder rested their case Thursday afternoon.

When Johnathan Ellison’s defense attorney Steven Miller was asked after court why he chose not to call any witnesses, he said that today’s closing statements will speak for themselves. Ellison’s co-counsel is Chris Connelly.

The state rested its case Thursday afternoon, and the defense announcement followed just minutes later.

Ellison is on trial on two counts of felony murder and one count each of malice murder, aggravated assault and armed robbery in the death of Antwane Hyatte, 35, of Chattanooga. Hyatte was stabbed 16 times during a drug deal at Ellison’s home in March, police said.

Co-defendant James Oglesby, 27, is facing the same charges. His trial is set for next year.

The state’s case ended after two lead investigators spent most of the day on the stand. They testified that Ellison continually had changed his story during two interviews with police.

Prosecutors played for the jury 2 1/2 hours of Ellison’s second recorded interview, conducted on March 21, four days after his arrest. Earlier in the trial, they saw video of his first interview, which showed Ellison keeping his head down and speaking in whispers.

In the second interview, Ellison acted drastically differently, speaking loudly and looking investigators in the eyes.

In both interviews, Ellison said Hyatte came to his house to sell marijuana to him and Oglesby.

In the first interview, recorded only hours after his arrest, Ellison told investigators he stabbed Hyatte a few times in the stomach because Hyatte had pulled a gun and tried to rob him.

But after investigators searched for hours for a gun in the spot Ellison led them to, he admitted he had made up the story, several authorities testified.

Ellison insisted throughout the second interview that he saw Oglesby stab Hyatte over and over again.

Two bloody knives were found in the living room of Ellison’s house. In the second interview, Georgia Bureau of Investigation Special Agent James Harris said that it was ridiculous to believe Oglesby first stabbed Hyatte with a knife from Ellison’s kitchen, then took another knife from his own pocket to continue stabbing.

But Ellison insisted he never hit or stabbed Hyatte throughout the bloody fight.

“I never stabbed him. He was my friend,” Ellison told Harris.

Harris told Ellison that Oglesby blamed Ellison for the stabbing in an interview.

When investigators asked why Ellison didn’t report the crime to police, he said Oglesby had threatened him.

Ellison told investigators that Oglesby had said, “You’re going with me or I’ll kill your whole family.”

about Joy Lukachick Smith...

Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...

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