Mr. Clayton Jerrod Ellington, a criminal justice graduate, was having an affair when he beat his wife and their 2-year-old twin sons to death with a hammer.
He was given the death sentence for the vile crimes. But on Monday the Supreme Court of Georgia unanimously agreed to give him a second chance at life.
The high court threw out Mr. Ellington’s death sentence, saying the trial court erred in not allowing the jury to consider a life sentence.
The following details on the 2006 case were obtained from court documents:
Mr. Ellington and his wife, Mrs. Berna Ellington, were college graduates from South Carolina, and were living in a house on Rambling Way in Lithonia with their twin sons, Christian and Cameron.
Mr. Clayton, 29, at some point worked at the Atlanta Steakhouse where he met and began an affair in early 2006 with another employee, telling her he was separated from his wife and in the process of a divorce.
But the truth was for more terrifying. He planned to murder his family and used another employee and friend, a 19-year-old Morehouse student as an alibi.
On May 17, Mr. Ellington made plans with the student to watch a basketball game and showed up at his home, asking him for a pair of shoes and a trash bag.
The two then went to the mistress’ home to watch the game, but she wasn’t there and Mr. Ellington let himself in.
After watching the game for about 10 minutes, Mr. Ellington said something was wrong because he couldn’t reach his wife and asked the teen to go with him to his house.
Inside, Mrs. Ellington was found lying face down in a pool of blood at the bottom of the stairs in the foyer. Expressing concern for his children, Mr. Ellington ran upstairs where they were found dead. He called 911.
“Investigators with the DeKalb County police found Berna, dressed in a tank top and underwear, covered in blood,” according to the court report.
They found blood spatter on the walls, the stairwell and carpet. At the top of the stairs, in the first bedroom to the right, they also found three sets of clothes had been laid out for the next day on the bed: one set for Mrs. Ellington, who worked for the state Department of Natural Resources, and two matching sets for the 2-year-old boys.
“The detective went to the second bedroom on the right where there were two cribs along opposite walls,” according to the court documents. “Each had a dead baby in it, dressed in matching red pajamas. They were lying on their backs, with blood spatter on the wall near each crib and on the bedding.”
The medical examiner’s office said the mother and sons died from blunt force injuries caused by the claw end of a claw hammer. And at least one of the boys may have been awake when he was killed.
“According to the blood spatter patterns, authorities believed Berna was attacked while she was in bed, then ran down the stairs and collapsed at the bottom. A plastic bag had been placed over her head. The twins were murdered in their cribs.”
Mr. Ellington was arrested the next day. In October 2008, a jury found him guilty of the three murders. The jury recommended the death sentence for each murder, and the court complied. Mr. Ellington then appealed to the state Supreme Court.
“We believe that Ellington was entitled to ask whether the prospective jurors in this case would automatically vote for a death sentence in any case in which two murder victims were young children, regardless of any other facts or legal instructions,” the opinion said.
“As to the jury’s decision on the sentences in this case, our experience in criminal justice matters and simple common sense indicate that the fact that two of the victims were young children was the critical issue. To be sure, there were other aggravating circumstances, including the brutality of the murders and the fact that Ellington committed a triple-murder. But the first point the average person would note in describing this case is that Ellington murdered his two 2-year-old sons.”
Still, they said, “His death sentences for the murders of his two children were directly affected by the trial court’s error and must therefore be reversed.”
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