Court Digest

Woman who killed ill husband in hospital faces murder charge

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — A woman who fatally shot her terminally ill husband inside a Florida hospital was taken into custody over the weekend after SWAT team members used a nonlethal explosive device to distract her and then tried to use a stun gun on her, authorities said Monday.

However, the Taser gun failed to subdue 76-year-old Ellen Gilland, and she fired a shot into the ceiling of her husband’s room inside AdventHealth Hospital before dropping the handgun and being taken into custody after a four-hour standoff, according to a police report from the Daytona Beach Police Department.

According to police, Gilland told officers that her 77-year-old husband, Jerry Gilland, had been ill for some time and they had planned the shooting together.

Ellen Gilland now faces charges of premeditated first-degree murder and two counts of aggressive assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill, stemming from when she pointed her gun at staff members who had entered the hospital room after hearing a gunshot, according to the police report.

She remained in jail on no bond on Monday, and her court-appointed public defender didn’t respond to an email inquiry.


State Supreme Court dumps triple-slaying death sentence

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The California Supreme Court on Monday overturned the murder convictions and death sentence for a man who killed three people and committed a series of other crimes in San Diego in 1985.

The court ordered a new trial for Billy Ray Waldon, ruling unanimously that a lower court judge improperly allowed Bill Ray Waldon to represent himself at trial despite testimony at an earlier competency hearing that he suffered from paranoia and a thought disorder impairing his ability to think clearly.

The judge overturned a previous decision by another judge who had found Waldon wasn’t competent to represent himself.

Authorities said that over a two-week period in December 1985, Waldon shot and killed Dawn Ellerman and set her home on fire, killing her teenage daughter, Erin Ellerman, by smoke inhalation.

He also broke into an apartment and robbed and raped the resident, robbed four women of their purses, shot and killed Gordon Wells as he worked on a car and wounded a neighbor who had heard the shots and went to help Wells, authorities said.

Waldon was finally arrested six months later.

At trial, Waldon claimed federal agents had framed him for the crimes “to thwart his efforts to promote world peace, spread new languages, and advance Cherokee autonomy,” according to the Supreme Court’s ruling. He also claimed CIA agents had monitored him.

A jury convicted Waldon of three counts of first-degree murder and a host of other crimes, including attempted murder, arson, burglary, rape and robbery.

The Supreme Court reversed Waldon’s conviction and sentence sent the case back to the lower court for further proceedings.


Rhode Island
Man gets life ­sentence in death of girlfriend

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — A Rhode Island man accused of running over and killing his on-and-off girlfriend during an argument has been sentenced to life in prison.

James Grilli, 39, was sentenced on Monday after pleading no contest to second-degree murder and leaving the scene in the 2020 death of Erika Belcourt, according to a statement from the attorney general’s office.

The pair had been arguing on the evening of Aug. 22, 2020, when Belcourt asked Grilli to remove his belongings from her Woonsocket apartment, prosecutors said.

The argument escalated when Grilli broke down the front door, prompting Belcourt to call police.

As she stood outside on the phone in front of Grilli’s vehicle, he revved the engine several times before running her over and driving from the scene, prosecutors said. Her two sons were inside the apartment at the time.

She was pronounced dead at the hospital.

“This extraordinary act of domestic violence took the life of a mother of two, who had much to live for. The defendant’s outrageous conduct has now landed him precisely where he belongs: in state prison, for decades to come,” Attorney General Peter Neronha said in a statement.


Man gets life ­sentence for ­Illinois police officer’s death

EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. (AP) — A Missouri man was sentenced to life plus 13 years in prison on Monday for a first-degree murder conviction for the death of an Illinois officer who had tried to stop the man from fleeing police.

Caleb Campbell, 24, of Florissant, Missouri, was convicted last month in a bench trial for the Aug. 4, 2021, death of Brooklyn Officer Brian Pierce Jr.

Pierce, also 24, was part of a team of officers that tried to stop Campbell — who allegedly drove over spike strips and struck Pierce on the McKinley Bridge in Venice, Illinois, which connects the two states.

Campbell was taken into custody days after the incident and claimed he had been carjacked in a Brooklyn nightclub parking lot. His car was later found abandoned on the Missouri side of the bridge.

Campbell had a handgun in his car and an active Missouri warrant for his arrest when he fled an attempted traffic stop, prosecutors said.

“The loss felt by the family and loved ones of Officer Pierce is unimaginable,” Madison County State’s Attorney Thomas Haine said. “There is no sentence that could even begin to give them a sense that justice has been adequately served.”

Associate Judge Neil Schroeder’s sentence consisted of a term of natural life for first-degree murder, 10 years for failure to report an accident involving injury or death, and three years for failure to stop following an accident involving injury or death, WSIL-TV reported.


Man gets 4 years, probation in case of baby cut from womb

CHICAGO (AP) — A man was sentenced to four years in prison Monday for obstructing justice in the April 2019 killing of a pregnant Chicago teenager whose baby was cut from her womb with a butcher knife.

Piotr Bobak, 44, who was dating the suspect at the time of the killing, received credit for time served and will leave prison in nearly four months. He then must serve six months of probation under a plea agreement, court records said.

Marlen Ochoa-Lopez, 19, was nine months pregnant when she went to Clarisa Figueroa’s home believing she was getting free baby items after the two connected in a Facebook group.

Prosecutors said Figueroa’s daughter, Desiree Figueroa, distracted Ochoa-Lopez with a photo album while her mother strangled Ochoa-Lopez. Her baby boy, Yovanny Jadiel Lopez, then was cut from her womb with a butcher’s knife.

Hours later, Clarisa Figueroa allegedly came running out of the home claiming she had just given birth to a baby boy and that he wasn’t breathing. The boy suffered brain injuries and was hospitalized, but died months later.

Marlen-Ochoa’s body was found in a trash bin.

Bobak said at the hearing he was misled by his “then-girlfriend” and her daughter. He said he had no prior knowledge of what the women planned to do, but used “poor judgment” after the fact when cleaning up the crime scene.

The Figueroas both have pleaded not guilty to charges of murder, kidnapping, dismembering a body, and concealing a homicide. Their cases are still pending.


Former priest sentenced to 37 months on child porn charges

EASTON, Pa. (AP) — A Roman Catholic priest accused of collecting thousands of child pornography images while serving overseas and then bringing them with him when he returned to the United States has been sentenced to more than three years in federal prison.

The Rev. William McCandless, 57, of Wilmington, Delaware, was sentenced Monday in federal court in Easton to 37 months in prison on a conviction of having used his cellphone to try to access pornography featuring underage boys.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Sherri Stephan said computer analysis indicated that the former DeSales University priest visited 3,000 pages featuring such pornography. Prosecutors said he amassed his collection while serving for several years in Monaco, and alleged it included items that can be described “as the torture of very young children.”

“He had no empathy for a single child in any of those images,” she said. “The reaction McCandless felt was to look for more.”

McCandless was a counselor in the Wellness Center at DeSales University in Upper Saucon Township from February to October 2017 but was fired after the school learned of the investigation. He originally was charged with possessing child pornography for importation into the U.S. and transporting it in interstate and foreign commerce as well as attempting to access it. He pleaded guilty last year to attempted access, and the other charges were dropped.

U.S. District Judge Edward G. Smith told McCandless that he served honorably in the Navy and brought compassion to his various ministries as a Catholic priest. But, he said, all the while evil resided within him and “you could not contain that evil.”

Defense attorney Michael Diamondstein said his client acknowledged the grave nature of the crime but was not the “devil in a priest’s collar” portrayed by the prosecution.

“Very, very few people are all good or all bad … and Father McCandless, if you pull this blip out of his life, has lived an extraordinary life. Better than I have,” he said.

McCandless apologized to his family, friends, religious order and “to anyone who ever placed faith in me.”

“Words cannot express the depths of my remorse,” he said. He also vowed to pay back his order, the Wilmington-based Oblates de St. Francis De Sales, for the money it spent covering his legal defense.

After his release, McCandless — who Diamondstein said will be barred from serving in ministry — will live under the supervision of his order. He will also be barred from contact with anyone under 18 and will be placed on a sex offender registry.


Charges dropped against woman in well body case

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — Prosecutors have dismissed murder charges against an Alabama woman in a 2019 killing in which a woman’s body was found at the bottom of a well.

A Tuscaloosa County judge granted a motion Monday to drop the case against Monic Mochell Battles, reported.

Battles had been scheduled to stand trial Feb. 6 in the killing of 20-year-old Willoe Watkins. Authorities say Watkins was beaten and strangled to death before her body was found in July 2019 wrapped in garbage bags and dropped down a well. Her killers then covered the well in concrete.

Battles’ husband, Tyler Battles, was convicted of murder in 2021 and sentenced to life in prison. Two other men, Devon Trent Hall and Joseph Brandon Nevels, pleaded guilty in the case and received 30-year prison sentences.

Court records show an attorney for Nevels, who had previously told police Monic Battles participated in the killing, said in a recent court filing that Nevels was refusing to testify at her trial.