A Hillsboro man convicted by a jury earlier this month on two counts of the rape of a child under the age of 10 has been sentenced to two terms of life in prison without parole.
Sentencing was previously deferred for Vernon Bartsal Ellison Jr., 45, following the June 10 verdicts so the court and the attorneys could research what Highland County Common Pleas Court Judge Rocky Coss called a “complex issue” of sentencing, as there were multiple options in Ohio’s laws under which Ellison could be sentenced.
While those options were previously believed to be life without parole, life with parole, or life with the possibility of parole after a certain number of years, according to Coss on Wednesday there were but two options – 15 years to life or life without parole, both the state and defense agreed.
On Thursday, prosecutor Anneka Collins recommended life in prison without the possibility of parole. Collins said Ellison essentially “stole” the childhood of the victim. The sexual abuse began when the victim was a small child and carried through to her teenage years, the jury found.
The prosecutor said the victim has suffered and continues to suffer because of the abuse and has carried guilt and shame with her through the years into her adulthood.
“She will deal with it for the rest of her life,” Collins said.
Collins noted that she has not seen “one bit of remorse” from Ellison during the course of the case. She also said that Ellison had previous felony convictions, though not of a sexual nature, and had also been to prison.
Defense attorney James Boulger acknowledged that the relationship between the victim and Ellison “was damaging,” and added that the defendant was also “damaged” in his own childhood by the same abuse.
Boulger said that while Ellison’s abuse as a child was not an excuse for his adult behavior, he said that fact was “predisposing” to Ellison becoming a perpetrator of abuse. He said the victim could have a good life.
“He has not taken her life. He has damaged her as he was damaged,” the attorney said. Boulger said Ellison “ought to have some opportunity to re-enter society” in the future.
When he spoke, Ellison said he had “great remorse” about the situation.
“It breaks my heart to know that I broke (her) heart,” he told the court.
Coss said he understood there to be a “high correlation” between a person having been abused and then becoming an abuser. “However,” he said, “the court has to look at what the conduct was” in the case.
He said Ellison’s testimony described a consensual relationship, and that intercourse did not occur until the victim was old enough to drive, which if the victim were 16 years old, the judge said would make the offense that of sexual battery.
The judge said what “struck” him was “just how cold” Ellison was during his testimony about the sexual relationship. The judge noted trial testimony in regard to Ellison’s adult romantic relationships involving women who had young daughters.
“Seldom does a sexual offender, a sexual predator, offend against just one victim,” Coss said.
The judge also referred to the 15 charges that were dismissed prior to the start of the trial, all fourth-degree felony counts of pandering sexually oriented material involving a minor.
The day before the trial began Ellison signed a document waiving his right to a jury trial on those charges, and the matter was set to be heard without a jury by Coss on June 9, prior to jurors hearing testimony to the rape charges. In that hearing, Collins dismissed the 15 charges, but said she intended to re-indict Ellison on them at a later date.
On Wednesday, Coss noted the “hundreds, thousands” of photos of young females that those charges were based on and said they were “extremely concerning to the court.”
Coss said the court had “grave concerns” about future offenses. He said the court had a responsibility to protect the public. He then sentenced Ellison to two consecutive terms of life in prison without parole.
At trial, Ellison offered no reaction when the guilty verdicts were read. He showed no reaction on Wednesday when he learned he would spend the rest of his life in prison.
Ellison has the right to appeal, and Boulger indicated that one would be filed.
Reach Angela Shepherd at 937-393-3456, ext. 1681, or on Twitter @wordyshepherd.