David "Chicken" Ellerby, who has beaten dozens of state charges - including murder and attempted murder - was sentenced to life in federal prison yesterday after a jury found him guilty in August of possessing and dealing cocaine and heroin.
"Mr. Ellerby is a chronic violent man who's plagued Baltimore City since he was 16 years old," Assistant U.S. Attorney Tonya Kelly Kowitz told U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake.
Kowitz outlined conviction after conviction. While he was still a teenager, Ellerby shot a man during an argument over a girl. A couple of years later, he shot a man during a robbery. He's been convicted on drug and assault charges. And he's been unsuccessfully prosecuted at least a half dozen-times on homicide-related charges.
He "is a violent repeat offender," Kowitz said.
In Baltimore, that means Ellerby, 36, is among what law enforcement officials call the "dirty dozen" - career criminals who have never received significant jail time. It also means he was targeted under a state, local and federal program designed to put such offenders in prison.
Ellerby's attorney, Idus Daniel Jr., characterized him as a victim of his environment: poor, uneducated, a drug user. He argued that the sentencing guidelines were unfair given the crime - possessing and intending to distribute drugs - and questioned why crack cocaine was dealt with more harshly than the powder version.
Ellerby too, raised objections and vowed to appeal his conviction. He has questions, he said, about the way the government prosecuted him and how well information was shared with his attorneys.
"I feel as if my whole life is on the line here, and I feel I should express myself," he said.
He ignored the advice of his attorney yesterday and calmly launched into a list of reasons why he believes he was unfairly tried and assessed in a pre-sentencing report, which he said "elaborated on old charges, charges that were dismissed ... charges I was found not guilty of."
He spoke of his six children and his sick mother, people who depended upon him for care and financial support.
Still, he couldn't beat a conviction this time, or a lengthy sentence.
Blake told Ellerby she was considering only past convictions and not acquittals, and she expressed sympathy for his family, noting that the situation is always difficult. "Unfortunately," she added, "the way you've been providing for your family has essentially been drug dealing for a long time, and that causes [pain] for a lot of other families."
She imposed the mandatory minimum sentence of life in prison on three counts. She gave Ellerby 30 years on two other counts.
Though the nickname for those identified as violent repeat offenders is the "dirty dozen," the number is far greater, according to the U.S. attorney's office. About 50 people have been pursued, and at least 42 of them arrested and charged in cases with more than 160 defendants total.
Most of the violent repeat offenders charged have been prosecuted at the federal level, where sentences are tougher and parole not a possibility. In Ellerby's case, prior felony drug convictions bumped up his mandatory minimum sentence to life.
He was arrested after a brief investigation by the Baltimore Police Department and agents from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
"Some of Baltimore's most dangerous career criminals believe that they cannot be held accountable," U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein said in a statement. "But we aim to prove them wrong."
David "Chicken" Ellerby was repeatedly charged but not convicted at the state level for murder or intent to murder. In some cases, he was found not guilty; in others, prosecutors declined to pursue, or "nolle prosequi."
June 11, 1990: Assault with intent to murder (nolle prosequi)
Dec. 17, 1993: Assault with intent to murder (not guilty)
March 21, 1995: Murder 1st degree (nolle prosequi)
May 10, 2001: Attempted 1st-degree murder (nolle prosequi)
April 25, 2003: Attempted 1st-degree murder (not guilty)
Aug. 10, 2004: Murder 1st degree (not guilty)
Source: court documents