Anthony Ellison freely admits shooting Nicholas Degros to death in January 2015.
But he says his one-time girlfriend, Jasmine Femia, whose trial opened at the Beaufort County Courthouse on Tuesday morning, was the force behind the deadly shooting outside Degros’ Beaufort home.
Ellison, now 39, agreed in July to testify against Femia in exchange for a 30- to 40-year sentence, according to his testimony. His trial will take place after Femia’s trial is completed.
On Tuesday, Circuit Court Judge Michael Nettles called a recess around 3 p.m. after 14th Circuit Assistant Solicitor Hunter Swanson called 13 witnesses to the stand.
Prosecutors say the shooting stemmed from a child-custody dispute and that Femia feared losing her children if Degros testified at a family court hearing scheduled for Jan. 14, 2015. Femia and Degros had a child together, and Femia allegedly had violated the terms of the visitation agreement, prosecutors said.
Ellison was in a relationship with and living with Femia at the time of the shooting.
Ellison testified Tuesday that Femia purchased the gun that killed Degros and rented the car that Ellison used to travel to and from Degros’ home that evening.
Ellison testified that Femia “wanted Nicholas (Degros) dead.”
She told Ellison that if she went into the scheduled family court hearing, she might go to jail and lose custody of her two children, he testified. If that happened, Ellison would have nowhere to live, he testified. Ellison had been released from prison only a handful of months before after serving about 8 1/2 years for robbery and didn’t have anywhere else to go, he said.
Swanson, the prosecutor, called Ellison’s actions “a twisted act of what I imagine you could call chivalry,” and said that Femia was behind them.
Jim Bannon, Femia’s defense attorney, argued that the state would have to prove that a “pimply-faced girl” was the “puppet master” behind the slaying, rather than the “hardened criminal.”
In his cross-examination, Bannon focused on Ellison’s initial interviews with Beaufort Police Department investigators in which Ellison confessed to committing the crime and acting on his own.
Ellison testified Tuesday that he lied to investigators because he was looking out for Femia.
“I was protecting Jasmine, because I thought she loved me,” Ellison said. “... I was trying to cover up to keep Jasmine out of jail.” He said he was telling the truth now “because it’s the right thing to do by the family.”
In those initial interviews, Elllison told police he found Degros’ address in Femia’s phone and came across some text messages that made him angry, according to his testimony during cross examination. He told police then that he acted independently and threw his phone and the murder weapon over a Port Royal bridge into the water. He testified Tuesday that he disposed of the weapon after Femia drove him to Hilton Head Island to do so.
Anastasia Harley, who had been dating Femia “off and on” for about three years at the time of the slaying, also testified. Harley said Femia told her she wanted to get rid of Degros and that she didn’t want him in her life.
“Every time he got on her nerves, she would say something like that,” Harley testified.
When Harley saw Femia kiss Ellison one day in late December, she was upset, she said. She confronted Femia about it the next day, and Harley said Femia told her that Ellison was “in her life so she can get rid of Nick.”
Both Femia and Ellison asked Harley how they could get a gun, but she said she didn’t help them.
Degros’ fiancee, Amanda Allen, took the stand to recount the night of Degros’ death. According to her testimony, Degros, Allen and Allen’s three children were in their duplex on the corner of Washington and Wilmington streets in Beaufort. They had just returned home from dinner and were in the living room while the children played.
Degros received phone calls from a number he did not recognize, Allen said, and then went outside with his cigarettes. Moments later, Allen heard gunshots. She moved the children away from windows and went outside to make sure Degros was all right, she said.
She found him lying on his side against the brick wall of the home, his face hidden and bleeding profusely, she said. After rolling him over and seeing his wounds, she screamed for help, she testified. He had been shot twice in the back of the head and once up his nose, according to Swanson.
“I just wanted him to wake up,” Allen said, crying during her testimony. “I screamed for help over and over because I knew the police officers were down the road.” She said she tried to open Degros’ eyes and push on his chest to get him to breathe, to no avail.
Eric Kyle, Enterprise Rent-A-Car area manager, testified that Femia rented a 2015 Hyundai Elantra on Jan. 9.
South Carolina State Law Enforcement Division agents James Tallon and Verona Herrera tesitifed that tests for blood found on the driver’s side floorboard were positive but said those tests could not determine whose blood it was, when it got there or even whether it was explicitly revealed that the found substance was blood at all.
The trial will resume Wednesday morning.