A Dubuque man on Monday was sentenced to 15 years in prison for a fatal shooting on Loras Boulevard.
Deonte WB Ellison, 26, was sentenced in Iowa District Court of Dubuque County to 10 years for voluntary manslaughter — a charge which a jury found him guilty of about a month ago. Ellison fatally shot Curtis R. Smothers Jr., 25, on July 2 on Loras Boulevard.
Ellison also was sentenced to five years in prison after pleading guilty to possession of a firearm by a felon.
“I am sorry,” he said in court Monday. “But everything came to me unexpected with nothing planned out. I do think I need help with my mental health.”
The sentences will be served consecutively, contrary to Ellison’s wishes. Judge Michael Shubatt said the severity of Ellison’s crime along with his extensive criminal history merited the additional time.
“Mr. Ellison shot an unarmed man in front of his daughter in broad daylight on a city sidewalk,” Shubatt said. “He shot him with a gun he should not have had in the first place.”
Shubatt said Ellison’s crimes would carry no mandatory minimum for time served, and Ellison will be eligible for parole as determined by the Iowa Department of Corrections.
Ellison originally was charged with first-degree murder, but the jury found him guilty of a lesser charge. In Iowa, a conviction of first-degree murder carries an automatic sentence of life in prison without parole.
At his trial in March, the prosecution and defense agreed that Ellison shot Smothers following an argument, but the sides disputed whether Ellison did so with premeditation or in self-defense.
Traffic camera footage documented the incident, which shows Smothers exiting a vehicle on Loras Boulevard to greet his daughter, who ran to and hugged him.
The girl was with her mother, Vanessa Ellison, who is now married to and has two children with Deonte Ellison.
By approaching Vanessa Ellison and her family, Smothers violated a no-contact order. In 2015, he pleaded guilty to a charge of domestic abuse after slapping Vanessa Ellison.
The camera footage captured the fight between Smothers and Deonte Ellison, in which Ellison fired a gun at Smothers twice. The second shot struck Smothers in the chest.
Ellison ran to a nearby residence following the shooting but fled before police established a perimeter after learning of his location.
He traveled to Michigan with his wife and their children. He was arrested by the U.S. Marshals Service in Kalamazoo after a 12-day manhunt.
Dubuque County Attorney C.J. May III argued on Monday that Iowa statute would mandate a minimum five-year sentence.
However, due to the omission of a legal procedure known as a special interrogatory, Shubatt concluded that the law did not apply to the case.
Ellison’s attorney, Ben Bartels, requested that sentences for both crimes be served concurrently, stating that Ellison’s wife and children would benefit from his presence.
Citing the pre-sentence investigation report, he added that Ellison has a history of substance abuse and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, depression and schizophrenia.
“It’s not an excuse for what happened in early July 2020, but we believe it is a mitigating factor,” Bartels said.
Although Shubatt accepted the conclusion that the crime was not planned, he said that, given Ellison’s extensive criminal history, it should not come as a shock that he was involved.
Iowa court records indicate that Ellison has at least five prior felony convictions. Past convictions include possession of drugs with intent to deliver and multiple counts of theft and assault causing bodily injury.
“It’s been one thing after another,” Shubatt said. “Really, the only stretch that Mr. Ellison has not been committing crimes was when he has been incarcerated.”
During the sentencing hearing, a victim-witness coordinator read a statement submitted by Smothers’ mother, Shavon Buckhalter, who claimed that Ellison planned the shooting years before the incident.
“Deonte has ruined our lives with the lies he told to defend himself,” Buckhalter said. “I hope my son is at peace because if he’s not, I pray every day he haunts you.”
But Ellison’s sister, Daisy Ellison, said after the hearing that Deonte Ellison has been a caring father and sibling.
“He’s been through a lot of stuff in his life,” she said. “Some things he probably just doesn’t know how to handle from the pain and the suffering.”