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Case closed: Charges against DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis dropped

Former DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis was finally freed of corruption charges Monday after a four-year saga that included two trials, an eight-month prison sentence and a successful appeal.

DeKalb District Attorney Sherry Boston said she won’t seek yet another trial against Ellis after the Georgia Supreme Court threw out his convictions Nov. 30.

A jury had found Ellis guilty in July 2015 of trying to shake down a contractor for campaign contributions, but the state’s highest court found he had been denied a fair trial. The charges of attempted extortion and perjury remained pending until Superior Court Judge Courtney Johnson on Monday granted Boston’s request to drop them.

Boston said another trial wouldn’t be worthwhile.

She said Ellis had done his time, and another trial would be costly for a county government trying to move beyond its corruption problems.

“Considering that Mr. Ellis did serve the jail time that he was sentenced to in this matter and released, we have to examine what more there would be to gain in the pursuit of a third prosecution,” Boston said during a press conference Monday.

Ellis was the most prominent DeKalb official who had been prosecuted among dozens of corruption cases over the last few years. Others pleaded guilty, including former DeKalb Commissioner Elaine Boyer, former schools Superintendent Crawford Lewis and many more lower-ranking government employees.

Ellis always maintained he was innocent and has said the Georgia Supreme Court brought justice to the case. He didn’t return a message seeking comment Monday.

“We are very pleased with the district attorney’s decision to dismiss the charges against Mr. Ellis,” said his attorney, Craig Gillen. “It is the just and fair thing to do. The four-year nightmare for Burrell and his family is finally over.”

Ellis was suspended from office from the time the charges were brought in July 2013 until the Georgia Supreme Court overturned the conviction. The court’s unanimous ruling said the judge in the case shouldn’t have prohibited testimony that could have helped clear Ellis.

His initial trial in 2014 ended with a hung jury. After a second trial, a jury found Ellis guilty of four felonies but acquitted him of five other counts, including bribery and extortion.

Ellis was convicted of trying to shake down Power and Energy Services for a $2,500 campaign contribution and threatening to end its $250,000 contract with the county. Ellis was also found guilty of perjury for lying under oath about his role in awarding county contracts.

Boston’s decision to drop the case against Ellis was expected. She said during last year’s campaign against then-District Attorney Robert James that she doubted the expense of prosecuting Ellis was justified.

James said he continues to believe there was “more than enough evidence” to convict Ellis, but he understands why Boston wouldn’t pursue a retrial.

“The county has been through a lot,” said James, who is now in private practice handling criminal defense and personal injury cases. “There’s a new administration in the courthouse now, and I understand the desire to move on from cases she didn’t initiate.”

Boston defeated James after running a campaign that questioned his ability to eliminate corruption and questioned his integrity.

The case against Ellis kept him from office for most of his second four-year term.

After he was indicted in July 2013, Gov. Nathan Deal suspended him from office while the charges were pending.

Ellis didn’t return to office until after he won his appeal. He finished the last few days of his term in December and received $222,556 in back pay.

Newly elected DeKalb CEO Mike Thurmond took over Jan. 1.

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