Neb. Supreme Court rejects child killer’s appeal

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — The Nebraska Supreme Court rejected on Friday the appeal of a sex offender sentenced to death for killing a 12-year-old girl whose body was found buried in an Omaha park.

The appeal was Roy Ellis Jr.'s first, which is filed automatically for those sentenced to death.

Ellis, 57, was convicted of first-degree murder for killing Amber Harris in 2006. Her remains were found in May 2006, buried in Hummel Park in far northeast Omaha. She had been missing since Nov. 29, 2005, when she was last seen getting off a school bus on her way home. DNA evidence on the girl’s book bag, found near Ellis’ residence, connected him to the crime.

Prosecutors believe Ellis killed Amber during a sexual assault, but her remains were too decomposed to determine whether she had been raped. An autopsy indicated she died of blunt-force trauma.

Attorneys for Ellis had argued in his appeal, among other things, that a lower court should not have allowed his former stepdaughters to testify at his 2008 murder trial that he repeatedly raped them when they were ages 14 and 12, respectively, and fathered a child with each of them.

The state’s high court agreed Friday that the lower court abused its discretion in admitting the women’s testimony into evidence during the trial. But it said the state’s evidence in the case, including Ellis’ DNA, was so strong as to make the error harmless.

“The physical evidence, and statements Ellis was reported to have made before the physical evidence connected him to the crime, established his guilt beyond any reasonable dispute,” Justice John Gerrard wrote for the high court.

Ellis also claimed in his appeal that Nebraska’s handling of the death penalty is unconstitutional, among other things. Ellis was sentenced to die soon after electrocution was thrown out as Nebraska’s lone method of execution, and lethal injection had not yet been approved as its replacement.

The Nebraska Supreme Court rejected this argument as well, saying it had already addressed Ellis’ issues with the death penalty in previous cases, upholding lethal injection as the state’s method of execution and the law’s constitutionality.

At the time of Amber’s death, Ellis was registered as a Level 3 sex offender — those deemed by authorities as most likely to re-offend — and had served time in jail for sexual assaults on children.

Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning lauded the state high court’s ruling.

“Mr. Ellis raped and murdered an innocent child,” Bruning said. “The state will continue to pursue justice for Amber and her family.”

An attorney for Ellis did not immediately return a message left Friday by The Associated Press seeking comment.