A chaotic scene erupted in a packed courtroom late Tuesday afternoon after a teenager was sentenced to 40 years in prison for a shooting last year at the Fox River Mall that left one person dead and another wounded.
After Outagamie County Judge Mark McGinnis announced 18-year-old Dezman Ellis’ sentence, multiple people in the gallery began to yell and physically confront each other, leading police to escort many of them out of the courtroom. Several police vehicles with flashing lights remained outside the courthouse after the hearing concluded.
Ellis was charged in connection with a shooting that happened about 3:30 p.m. Jan. 31, 2021 — a year ago Monday — near the food court inside the Fox River Mall and led to the death of Jovanni Frausto, a 19-year-old from Neenah.
In November, Ellis pleaded no contest to two charges related to the incident: second-degree intentional homicide and first-degree recklessly endangering safety. Ellis had faced a more serious homicide charge, but prosecutors agreed to amend it before he entered his plea.
After a hearing that lasted for about four hours, McGinnis sentenced Ellis to a total of 40 years of initial confinement, followed by 25 years of extended supervision.
“There is no doubt in my mind that the community at large needs to be protected from you,” McGinnis said.
Ellis stood in front of the courtroom before he was sentenced and, speaking quickly, apologized for his actions.
“I made a mistake that I regret,” he said. “I’m going to regret it for the rest of my life.”
Ellis, who has already spent about a year in jail, said he hoped Frausto’s family might someday be able to forgive him.
“I messed up,” he said. “I wish I could take it all back.”
Earlier in the afternoon, many of Frausto’s relatives gave statements in court, including his mother, Tanya Lopez, who carried with her a framed photo of her and her children, which she showed to McGinnis.
“This hurts me to my core,” said Lopez, describing how the loss of her son has affected her life. “I literally feel heartache every day.”
The bystander wounded in the shooting also spoke in court, describing the challenges he has faced since the incident, including difficulty trusting people and trouble sleeping at night.
“Every little sound I hear, I jump now,” he said.
Outagamie County District Attorney Melinda Tempelis stressed how the incident affected the entire community as she gave her sentencing recommendation.
“The impact to the community was huge,” said Tempelis, describing the crowds of people who fled the mall, unsure what was happening, and others forced to hide for hours as police responded to the incident.
Ellis’ defense attorney, Scott Ceman, said Ellis didn’t go to the mall with a plan to hurt anyone, but was instead worried about his own safety when he opened fire.
Frausto made several threats toward Ellis in the months before the incident that made Ellis fearful for his own life, Ceman said.
Still, Ellis accepts responsibility for what happened, Ceman said.
“He understands what he has done wrong,” he said.
When shots rang out inside the mall that afternoon, crowds of people fled the building or found places to hide as police swarmed the area. Ellis and Frausto were both at the mall in separate groups of friends, but began to “exchange words,” apparently about a girl in Ellis’ group who used to talk to Frausto, according to a criminal complaint.
Ellis told Frausto, “I will shoot this place up, I will kill you,” then displayed a gun before opening fire at Frausto before he fled the mall, the complaint says.
A bystander wounded by one of Ellis’ shots told police he had been talking to a friend when he heard a voice say “drop the gun.” He then heard a shot and felt something hit him in the hip, the complaint says.
The bystander wounded by one of Ellis’ shots told police he had been talking to a friend when he heard a voice say “drop the gun.” He then heard a shot and felt something hit him in the hip, the complaint says.
Police found two spent shell casings at the scene, the complaint says. An autopsy later determined Frausto died as a result of two gunshot wounds.