‘Absolute Carnage’: Opening Statements, Testimony Begin in Murder Trial of Officer Ella French’s Alleged Killer

Chicago police Officer Ella French (@TomAhernCPD / Twitter)Chicago police Officer Ella French (@TomAhernCPD / Twitter)

Emonte Morgan unleashed “absolute carnage” on Chicago police officers when he fatally shot Officer Ella French and critically wounded her partner, Cook County prosecutors alleged Tuesday morning.

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A sea of Chicago police officers and officials filled Judge Ursula Walowski’s fifth-floor courtroom as opening statements got underway in Morgan’s murder trial at the Leighton Criminal Court Building Tuesday, more than two and a half years after French was killed.

Prosecutors showed jurors footage of the shooting and its immediate aftermath recorded through body-worn cameras from French and the other two officers on the scene.

“Today you will see the last thing that Officer Ella French ever saw in her life,” Assistant State’s Attorney Scott Clark told jurors. “Today you will hear the last thing Officer Ella French heard in her life. Today you will see this defendant murder Officer Ella Grace French on Aug. 7, 2021.”

But Morgan’s defense team argued that the cameras didn’t actually capture who killed French and critically wounded her partner, Carlos Yanez Jr., and instead told jurors that a third officer on scene, Joshua Blas, was the only person to fire a weapon.

French was driving on patrol just after 9 p.m. on Aug. 7, 2021, with Yanez and Blas when they pulled over an SUV with expired license plates allegedly driven by Morgan’s brother Eric Morgan near 63rd Street and Bell Avenue.

According to prosecutors, 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 Emonte 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 multiple times and critically wounded, but survived his injuries. He ultimately lost an eye and was left partially paralyzed.

As Blas attempted to handcuff Eric Morgan, he heard gunshots and then saw Emonte Morgan run past.

“He realized he had heard gunshots,” Clark said. “Now the only person he sees running from the car is the guy who was non-compliant just seconds ago, and his partners are nowhere to be seen.”

The firearm that investigators believe was used to shoot Chicago police Officer Ella French and another officer on Saturday, Aug. 7, 2021. (U.S. Attorney’s Office)The firearm that investigators believe was used to shoot Chicago police Officer Ella French and another officer on Saturday, Aug. 7, 2021. (U.S. Attorney’s Office)

But Emonte Morgan returned to the SUV and can be seen stepping over Yanez and French’s bodies on the ground, prosecutors said. When Blas made his way back to the vehicle, Emonte Morgan allegedly fired multiple shots, but missed, as Blas returned fire.

Emonte Morgan was struck, but was able to flee the scene on foot before both he and his brother were taken into custody.

“Only that shot by Officer Blas ended this defendant’s reign of terror that evening,” Clark said.

The traffic stop was shown to jurors through the perspective of all three officers on scene.

French’s body-worn camera footage showed her beginning to pat down Eric Morgan before he took off running, followed by Blas. Yanez was struggling with Emonte Morgan in the front passenger seat of the vehicle as French came around the back of the vehicle. Shots are then heard. French yelled and then collapsed to the ground.

Blas’ footage showed him take off after Eric Morgan as he attempted to run from the vehicles, telling him to “get on the f--king ground.” Eric Morgan went to the ground and as Blas began to handcuff him, he yelled out “Oh, s--t” and began running back toward the vehicles, radioing in a “10-1” that shots had been fired.

As he returned to the vehicle, Blas can be seen firing shots at Emonte Morgan before Morgan fled on foot. Blas can be heard yelling “officer down!” and calling out to French, who was laying on the ground near Yanez unresponsive.

Footage from Yanez’s camera showed the struggle up close as he attempted to restrain Emonte Morgan after he refused to put down his phone or a cup he was holding. Yanez then fell to the ground and what appeared to be blood could be seen on his camera’s lens as he was heard struggling to breathe.

As Yanez laid on the ground, Blas can be heard returning before additional shots were fired.

Blas on Tuesday testified about the evening leading up to the shooting, saying he knew both French and Yanez and had worked with them before. After the shooting when he returned to the vehicle he said it was unclear if either officer was alive.

“I saw Officer Yanez with blood all over his face laying down,” Blas testified, “and also between the vehicle and the curb was Ella, Officer French, laying down.”

According to Blas, he could hear Yanez struggling to breathe as other officers arrived and began to assist.

But defense attorney Kristine Neal said the evidence will show Blas was the only person who fired a weapon that evening and said that although the events of that night were “tragic,” it was “not a murder.”

On cross examination, defense attorneys attempted to show that when Blas radioed in about shots being fired, he stated that he fired shots, not Emonte Morgan, and that when speaking with a lieutenant afterwards, he said that he had shot, but didn’t say Morgan had. Blas testified he did not recall exactly what he stated at that point.

Blas also testified that he could not see any muzzle flash coming from Emonte Morgan when he allegedly fired shots at him, but he added that his camera also didn’t pick up the muzzle flash from his own weapon.

According to Neal, the Morgans were not familiar with Chicago and were traveling to their cousin’s home when they were pulled over. She also argued that the vehicle’s plates were not expired and that it was properly registered.

Blas testified that as he returned to the vehicles after chasing down Eric Morgan, he had not yet unholstered his firearm and was carrying handcuffs in his right hand — the hand he said he uses to shoot with.

The intersection of 63rd Street and South Bell Avenue in Chicago. (WTTW News)The intersection of 63rd Street and South Bell Avenue in Chicago. (WTTW News)

During his testimony, he identified the handcuffs in his right hand in still images taken from his own body-worn camera footage as he approached the vehicles. Blas’ camera also showed that French and Yanez were already on the ground before he fired any shots.

Blas told jurors that as he raised his own weapon, Emonte Morgan was pointing a firearm back at him.

Amanda Kirksy, who briefly lived with the Morgans and was riding in the SUV with them the night of the shooting, testified that she watched as Yanez struggled with Emonte Morgan before French was shot and collapsed to the ground.

“I heard shots and then I seen her turn and fall,” Kirksy said.

She said the officers did not have their weapons drawn and that the gunshots came from the front passenger area of the SUV where Yanez was struggling with Emonte Morgan.

Kirksy testified she was in shock and ran from the scene after the shooting, and that she didn’t speak with police until the following day. She was eventually arrested, but was released without charges.

French’s mother, Elizabeth, who was the first witness called to testify Tuesday, told jurors about her last conversation with her daughter and the phone call she received informing her Ella had been shot.

Yanez is also set to testify.

Two people are already serving prison time in connection with French’s death.

Eric Morgan was sentenced to seven years in prison after pleading guilty last fall to aggravated unlawful use of a weapon, aggravated battery and obstruction of justice charges. Jamel Danzy, who pleaded guilty in federal court to straw purchasing the firearm allegedly used to kill French, has been sentenced to 30 months in prison.

Contact Matt Masterson: @ByMattMasterson[email protected] | (773) 509-5431

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