A Clovis man testified Monday that he broke into his estranged wife's home and wrestled with her lover, but doesn't remember killing her with a kitchen knife after she called 911 in May 2008.
Cantrell Ellis, 39, sobbed in Fresno County Superior Court as he recalled the events leading up to Charlotte Ellis' death inside her home on the 2600 block of Sierra Madre Avenue. He said he knew something bad had happened because when police arrived, his hands were covered with blood.
Ellis, however, testified that he had had no control over his actions, and he compared the incident to an "out-of-body" experience. "It was like I'm watching a movie. I'm watching myself doing things that I had no control over," he told the jury in Judge Robert Oliver's courtroom.
Prosecutor Michael Frye contends Ellis went to his estranged wife's house during the early hours of May 2, 2008, to spy on her. When Ellis saw Sadon Scott in Charlotte Ellis' bed, he attacked the pair in a jealous rage, Frye said.
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A criminal complaint charges Ellis with first-degree murder in the death of Charlotte Ellis, 33. He also is charged with the attempted murder of Scott, an acquaintance since junior high school.
Attorney Sal Sciandra, who represents Ellis, however, said the attack was done in the heat of passion. He and Ellis are hoping for conviction on the lesser charge of manslaughter. The trial is expected to conclude this week.
Monday, Ellis testified that he and his estranged wife were unfaithful to each other but always got back together. He said their lives worsened after their 9-year-old son, Cantrell Ellis II, was killed in 2004 while riding his bicycle to school.
Ellis said he and his wife later settled a wrongful-death lawsuit against a truck driver and the driver's employer for more than $2 million. But Ellis testified he was never able to resolve his feelings about his son's death. He also said his wife didn't want to share her feelings with him.
Ellis said he trusted Scott and listened to advice on how to invest the settlement money. Though Ellis said he suspected his wife was having an affair with Scott, he testified that he always believed he and his wife would one day patch things up.
But in late April 2008, Ellis said, he and Charlotte Ellis had a fight. They both fell to the floor, and she hit her head, he said. At that point, she moved out, taking their two children.
Ellis testified that he went to Charlotte Ellis' new home late at night at least three times to peek inside. Seeing her safe gave him peace of mind and allowed him to sleep, he told the jury.
But Ellis said that after drinking on the evening of May 1, he went to his estranged wife's home about 2:30 a.m. the next day and saw she was not alone in bed. He testified that he saw himself pick up a rock and break the bedroom window. He then saw himself enter the bedroom, where he fought with Scott.
Frye said Ellis told Scott: "I'm gonna kill you." But Ellis testified that he didn't remember saying those words.
Ellis testified that he remembered seeing Scott escape through the front door, but said strong emotions of anger and betrayal caused him to black out.
Frye asked Ellis why he didn't just leave the home. Ellis, however, testified that he had no thoughts about leaving.