The story of Ella Mae Ellison’s wrongful conviction for first-degree murder and armed robbery begins on November 30, 1973, in Roxbury, Massachusetts. Three young Black men armed with handguns attempted to rob a local pawn shop, Suffolk Loan Co. As they began to rob the display cases, an off-duty police officer entered the store and attempted to intervene. Detective John Schroeder was killed in the ensuing struggle, and the young men fled.
Three days later, the young men were arrested, and, when questioned, one of them said that an eighteen-year-old “lighter-skinned Black girl” drove their getaway car. This unknown fourth participant would face murder charges under the felony-murder rule. Two of the three young men, Nathanial Williams and Anthony Irving, flipped to testify against Terrell Walker, who they said fired the gun, and agreed to testify against the unknown getaway driver. Williams and Irving stated that the driver was Ella Mae Ellison, a dark-skinned, twenty-seven-year-old, Black woman and mother of four. Ellison knew these young men, as they had resided in the same housing project, and she had given them rides before, furnishing them with details of her vehicle to describe to police.
Despite her total incompatibility with the description of the getaway driver, Ellison was convicted of first-degree murder and robbery in November 1974 and sentenced to life in prison. When she was convicted, she said, “I can’t live without my kids. I’ll kill myself.” The Ella Ellison Support Committee launched a robust defense campaign to free Ella. Two years later, Williams and Irving recanted their testimony about Ellison, admitting that there was no fourth person involved and that they had invented a getaway driver to shift blame from Irving. Two years after that, after Ellison had served four years in a state penitentiary, her conviction was reversed by the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts. Later, the charges against her were also dismissed.
For more information: