And while he was in a car with older men at the time of this drive-by shooting, and one of them -- veteran Frank Lee Miller -- has already been convicted of murder, Ellis got life-plus-32 years anyhow.
The Colorado Springs Gazette has done the heavy lifting on this story from the beginning. As the paper reported in October 2010, then-nineteen-year-old Miller was a decorated Fort Carson soldier (he earned the Army Commendation Medal and the Combat Infantry Badge) whose stint serving in Afghanistan had ended just a few months before he and Ellis were busted for killing Harmon, 26, outside the store close to midnight circa September 26.Did Harmon do anything to provoke this fatal response? Based on information that came out in Miller's June 2011 trial, apparently not. Harmon was walking with Nicholas Artist, the brother of his intended bride, Autumn Artist, at the time of the shooting. Nicholas was not hit, but that appears to have been simply a matter of chance. According to testimony at the trial, where a jury found him guilty of first-degree murder, Miller, who was driving, handed Ellis the gun and told him to shoot one of the two men as they drove past. Whether Ellis chose Harmon is uncertain, but one of the eleven rounds fired killed him anyway.
Immediately after his arrest, Ellis was placed in a juvenile holding facility due to his age -- and while he was subsequently charged as an adult, his defense attorney cited his youth at trial, reportedly maintaining that he was unduly influenced by Miller and the other men in the car, all of whom was older. Ellis's difficult upbringing, allegedly marked by neglect and abuse, was also raised. But the jury appears to have been more affected by surveillance footage showing the car slowly driving past as shots rang out from the backseat.
Ellis's juvenile status at the time of the crime would ordinarily mean the life sentence he received wouldn't preclude a parole possibility after forty years -- but not in this case. As the Gazette notes, he's also been given 32 years for trying to kill Nicholas Artist, and that sentence is set to run consecutively, not concurrently, with his punishment for slaying Harmon. As such, he's unlikely to breathe free air again -- a scenario that seems just fine by Darlene Masteller, Harmon's mom. As she told the Gazette, "He should serve every year possible for what he did to our family."
Here are large versions of Miller's and Ellis's mug shots.Follow and like the Michael Roberts/Westword Facebook page.
More from our Colorado Crimes archive: "John Severe latest biker with military background busted in Virgil Means homicide."