Suspect in Memphis shooting gets public defender

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MEMPHIS, Tennessee (TBEN) — A Tennessee man accused of killing four people and injuring three others in a livestream shooting that paralyzed Memphis and sparked a citywide manhunt was given a public defender during the court hearing on Friday morning and will remain in prison. charged with first degree murder.

Ezekiel Kelly, 19, told a judge he couldn’t afford a lawyer over allegations in Wednesday’s attack that sparked panic and fear in the city.

Additional costs are expected. District attorney Steve Mulroy said out of court that bail is not warranted due to the violent nature of the alleged crimes.

As a result of the hour-long frenzy, police warned residents to take shelter in their places, closed down a baseball stadium and college campuses, and suspended public bus services as frightened residents wondered where the man would strike next. Kelly was arrested late Wednesday after crashing into a stolen car while on the run from police.

The violence unfolded just a few months after Kelly was released early from a three-year prison sentence for a pair of shootings in 2020.

The bloodshed occurred as the city was still reeling from the brutal murder of jogger Eliza Fletcher, who was kidnapped less than a week earlier on her early morning flight.

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“This has been a horrible week for the city of Memphis,” said Police Director Cerelyn “CJ” Davis.

Authorities gave no explanation on Thursday for a possible motive. They also did not say how Kelly got his hands on the weapon or weapons used in the attacks.

The Shelby County Public Defender’s office has not called back to request comment on Kelly’s case.

Memphis has also been rocked in recent weeks by other high-profile murders, including the shooting of a preacher during a daylight car theft in her driveway and the shooting of an activist while arguing over money.

Mayor Jim Strickland told reporters on Thursday that he was furious that Kelly was released from prison early in March after pleading guilty to aggravated assault last year.

“This is no way for us to live, and it’s not acceptable,” said Strickland, who later pounded the podium when he demanded responsibility. He added: “If Mr. Kelly served his full three-year sentence, he would still be in prison today and four of our fellow citizens would still be alive.”

In February 2020, Kelly, then 17, was charged as an adult with attempted first-degree murder and other crimes in two shootings committed a few hours apart. Both victims survived but did not cooperate with prosecutors, according to court records, and Kelly pleaded guilty to reduced charges of aggravated assault in April 2021.

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Kelly was sentenced to three years in prison, but was released in March after serving just over two years behind bars, including credit for the time he was imprisoned prior to his plea.

Juvenile court records reviewed by The The Bharat Express News show that both shootings took place when it was dark outside and when both victims were helping other people move. On both occasions, shots were fired from a car with more than one person inside, records show.

The man who was shot in the chest testified that he was hit while trying to take cover and the shots lasted five minutes. He positively identified Kelly in court, the records showed.

“Given the age of the defendant, previous contacts with the court and the nature of the delinquent acts, the court is of the opinion that there is no specific time to rehabilitate the child using procedures, services and facilities that the court available in this state,” a court order said.

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Months before his release, Kelly was denied parole in September 2021.

Prior to that decision, he said at a probation committee hearing that he dropped out of high school during 11th grade because he had a problem with anger management. In an assessment of inmates’ risks and needs, a hearing officer said he scored high for “violent,” according to a recording of the hearing.

“I went into anger management,” Kelly, then 18, said at the hearing. “I didn’t know how to deal with it at the time because I was a teenager.”

He said he had been “affiliated” — that is, with a gang — but wasn’t anymore, saying, “as I got older, I separated from those kinds of groups.” He said he previously worked at a fast food restaurant and a poetry club.

At the time, his fiancé wrote a letter to probation officers, saying that the couple had talked about Kelly going to trade school and starting a new life.

In recommending parole, the Hearing Officer partially mentioned “the seriousness of your offense, as someone was shot – I know you said you were not there – but you were convicted.”

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The Bharat Express News writer Jonathan Mattise in Nashville, Tennessee contributed to this report.