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Inmate released after 4 1/2 years without trial

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Monday, Feb. 17, 2014, at 7:05 p.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014, at 9:56 a.m.

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A Wichita man has been released from the Sedgwick County Jail after spending 4½ years there awaiting trial on an allegation that could have locked him up for life as a sexual predator.

Todd Ellison, 45, who was supposed to stand trial next week, was released Friday night after District Judge Ben Burgess ruled that his right to a speedy trial had been violated.

“At first I had to check with my lawyer to make sure I was hearing what I thought I was hearing,” Ellison said Monday. “I’ve got to be honest with you. I was completely taken by surprise.”

Ellison’s lawyer, Mike Whalen, said he, too, was surprised by the ruling.

Over the years, Whalen has cited a number of reasons for why he thinks the state’s Sexual Predator Act is unconstitutional. He argued in Ellison’s case that keeping a suspected predator locked up for more than 4½ years while awaiting trial was unconstitutional in its own right.

“He has been denied all human liberties besides food and shelter, and that shelter has been locked and barred,” Whalen argued in a recent court document. “Mr. Ellison is not serving a sentence; his sentence and parole are over. At best Mr. Ellison is a person with a mental illness problem. At worst he is a man wronged by the government and the slow passage of time. Justice, here, has not been served.”

Court and prison records show that Ellison was convicted of aggravated indecent solicitation of a child under 14, sexual exploitation of a child under 16, blackmail and harassment by telephone – charges that date to 1996 and 1997. Ellison declined to discuss those charges on Monday.

“It’s nothing that I’m proud of, let’s just put it that way,” he said.

In June 2009, as Ellison was about to be released from prison, prosecutors filed a petition that said he might meet the standards for being a sexually violent predator.

“He is likely to engage in repeat acts of sexual violence, and he has serious difficulty controlling his dangerous behavior,” the petition said.

Over the next 4½ years, Ellison fought the allegation. He said he caused the first major delay in the case by asking that his court-appointed lawyer be replaced.

“It didn’t seem like he was interested in doing more than putting up a cursory fight,” he said. “This was my life on the line.”

After Whalen took over the case in September 2010, Ellison said, most of the delays have been attributed to the state.

“They seemed to slow-walk because they felt they could,” he said. “There just seemed to be this notion that rules didn’t apply to them and that they could do pretty much whatever they wanted to do.”

Ellison said he felt no bitterness about his time in custody.

“I feel a lot of relief right now, but I can’t say I ever felt bitter,” he said.

He said he spent much of his time in prison taking college courses. He said he spent much of his time in jail in Bible studies and teaching English as a second language to other inmates.

“I am a man of faith, and I believe I was where I was supposed to be,” he said. “I mean that in a spiritual sense – that God had me where he wanted me to be.”

Ellison said he is confident that he won’t become a repeat offender.

“I would just hope that people would realize this is something that happened many, many years ago, and I’m not that person anymore,” he said.

Reach Hurst Laviana at 316-268-6499 or hlaviana@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @hlaviana.

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