Jamel Danzy, who pleaded guilty to straw purchasing the firearm used to kill Chicago police Officer Ella French, has been sentenced to 30 months in federal prison.
U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman issued the sentence Wednesday before a Dirksen Federal Building courtroom packed with Chicago police officials and members of French's family.
“She had so much more life left to live,” Chicago police Officer Haley Mirabelli told the court. “Ella French, and the future that was stripped from her, deserves justice.”
Danzy, 40, pleaded guilty earlier this year to conspiring to straw purchase the semi-automatic handgun that was used to kill the 29-year-old French and critically wound her partner Officer Carlos Yanez in August 2021.
Federal prosecutors had sought a 5-year sentence, the maximum allowable, for Danzy. But in announcing his decision, Gettleman also pointed to mitigating factors for Danzy, including a difficult upbringing and a lack of a previous criminal record.
“The fact that he has led the kind of life he has led and is the person he is today convinces me that there’s a very low risk of recidivism,” the judge said.
Brothers Emonte and Eric Morgan have been charged in connection with that shooting.
According to Cook County prosecutors, French was driving on patrol on Aug. 7, 2021 with Yanez and Officer Joshua Blas when they pulled over an SUV with expired license plates driven by Eric Morgan near 63rd Street and South Bell Avenue.
French walked to the driver’s side of the vehicle and took the car keys from Eric Morgan, who allegedly admitted that he had marijuana on him. He was ordered to get out of the car.
The other officers ordered Emonte Morgan to get out of the car, and he exited with an open drink and a cellphone in hand, prosecutors said. He allegedly refused to set those items down, and soon began struggling with the officers.
As this happened, Eric Morgan tried to run and was chased by Blas, according to prosecutors, while Yanez continued struggling with Emonte Morgan at the back of the SUV.
Those two moved toward the open front passenger door, with Yanez yelling at Morgan to show his hands, prosecutors said. As French came over to assist, Emonte Morgan allegedly fired multiple shots, striking both French and Yanez in the head.
French was rushed to the University of Chicago Medical Center, where she died. Yanez was shot three times and critically wounded, but survived his injuries.
“I may not have succumbed to my injuries, but being shot in the head four times and in my shoulder once …. I will never be the person that I was,” Yanez said.
During the hearing, Yanez’s wife Brenda tearfully told the court her “worst nightmare became a reality” the night of the shooting. She explained that Yanez lost his right eye from the shooting and is still struggling to recover from his injuries while he remains dependent on others every day.
“We are forever changed as a result of a decision you made,” she said, adding that her family is facing a “life sentence” while Danzy will one day be out of prison.
Blas also spoke Wednesday and described the survivor’s guilt he feels and lamented that Danzy only faced a maximum of five years in prison. French’s mother Elizabeth described her daughter as a cheerful, outgoing person who always worked to help others around her.
“My heart shattered and a piece of my soul leaves me forever,” she said of seeing her daughter’s body laying under a sheet in the hospital. “I will never again hug Ella, I will never again tell Ella how proud I am of her. I will never again tell Ella how very, very much I love her.”
Addressing Danzy directly, Elizabeth French said she wished he would get one year in prison for every year of life Ella French lost.
“Nothing you can do or say will bring my Ella back," she said, "Nothing this court can do will bring Ella back. I believe you deserve to serve every year allowed by law.”
Prosecutors said Danzy “set into motion a chain of events“ that led to the shooting when he gave the Morgan brothers the firearm used to kill French.
In his plea agreement, Danzy acknowledged he purchased the .22-caliber pistol used to kill French in March 2021, from a Hammond gun dealer and lied when he signed a statement indicating he was purchasing the gun for his own use.
That gun was instead given to Eric Morgan, prosecutors said, and later recovered by police at the scene of the Aug. 7, 2021 shooting. Danzy and Eric Morgan were in a relationship together for years, and Gettleman believed Danzy ultimately purchased the firearm for Eric Morgan out of some sort of "misguided love."
Danzy also bought a second gun, a 9mm Glock pistol, a few days before he purchased the one used to kill French, according to the plea agreement. Danzy purchased that gun for another individual, who is a convicted felon and was prohibited from legally purchasing the weapon.
Danzy’s defense attorney James Vanzant argued his client had no knowledge either of the Morgan brothers “would use the firearm in the manner it was used.”
“There is no evidence in the record that Mr. Danzy was actually aware that the firearm he bought for (Eric) Morgan would be used by a third party to kill anyone, much less a police officer,” Vanzant wrote last week in his response to the prosecution’s sentencing memorandum.
But prosecutors contend Danzy bought ammunition and knew that the firearm he gave to Eric Morgan was loaded.
Holly Blaine, who also represents Danzy, said her client “made a terrible choice” and has significant remorse and guilt for his actions, going so far as attempting to “end his own life.”
Danzy apologized during Wednesday's hearing, saying he has taken responsibility for his "irresponsible and dangerous actions."
“I am sincerely and truthfully sorry for what occurred,” he said.
I am deeply disappointed in the court’s decision to not utilize the maximum sentence and send a message that these actions will not be tolerated in our city and country. Despite this, we will carry on Ella’s legacy of dedication to Chicago and its people.
— Chicago Police Superintendent David O. Brown (@ChiefDavidBrown) December 14, 2022
Numerous current and former Chicago police officers and officials filed letters with the court lauding French’s character and urging Gettleman to issue Danzy the maximum 5-year sentence.
After the hearing, CPD Chief of Patrol Brian McDermott said he and other police officials were “extremely disappointed” by the sentence.
“We had an opportunity here today to send a strong message to those criminals who violate our gun laws,” he said. “I believe we missed that opportunity.”
McDermott wrote in a letter to the court that the shooting “shook this city and shocked the nation.” Commander Melinda Linas said the shooting wasn’t a “split-second decision,” but rather a series of events — started by Danzy — that spread over days and culminated with French’s death.
“The city of Chicago is enjoying a decrease in gun violence but is still struggling with the carnage brought on by firearms,” wrote Angel Novalez, the head of CPD’s Office of Constitutional Policing and Reform, “straw purchasers make these problems worse.”
Contact Matt Masterson: @ByMattMasterson | [email protected] | (773) 509-5431