Pierce County murder conviction overturned due to use of racist stereotype

A man accused of fatally shooting an ex-girlfriend in 2017 at her Milton apartment has won his appeal after he successfully argued that prosecutorial misconduct deprived him of a fair trial.

The News Tribune reported Monday that a three-judge panel of Division II of the Washington State Court of Appeals overturned his convictions Aug. 31, saying prosecutors committed misconduct in suggesting racist stereotypes to the jury.

A Pierce County Prosecutor’s Office spokesperson said the office is deciding whether to ask the state Supreme Court to review the decision.

Jurors convicted Joshua Kioni Ellis of second-degree murder for the death of 25-yar-old Wendi Traynor, and Ellis was sentenced to over 23 years in prison.

Prosecutors told jurors Ellis shot Traynor about a month after she had left their home in Kentucky and moved back to Washington. Her family found her body about a week after the shooting.

Ellis argued at trial that he killed Traynor in self-defense as she reached for a gun.

On appeal, Ellis argued that deputy prosecutor John Neeb’s reference to The People v. O.J. Simpson and an implicit bias exercise were improper during jury selection.

"Ellis argues that the prosecutor committed misconduct during voir dire because he invoked racial stereotypes and appealed to the prejudice of the jury," Judge Bernard Veljacic wrote for the panel. "Because the prosecutor committed misconduct that deprived Ellis of a fair trial, we reverse his convictions."

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