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Judge maintains bail in sexual assault case

by DERRICK PERKINS
Daily Inter Lake | November 9, 2021 7:00 AM

District Judge Matthew Cuffe has denied a bail reduction for a Eureka man accused of pressuring a juvenile for sex, sexual assault and assault with a weapon.

John Kendall Ellis, 35, who is awaiting trial in two different cases inside the Lincoln County Detention Center, requested a bail modification last month. Combined, Ellis is being held on $250,000 bond.

Cuffe, who heard the arguments for and against reducing bail during an Oct. 25 hearing, cited Ellis’ lack of local ties and history of disregarding court orders as outstanding practical concerns.

“That testimony established [Ellis] has few connections to this jurisdiction,” Cuffe wrote in an Oct. 29 order. “Moreover, a review of exhibit 1, defendant’s criminal history report, shows he has lived in Arkansas and Kansas. In each of those jurisdictions, [Ellis] has outstanding warrants for failing to appear on charges much less substantial than he is facing now.”

Cuffe also pointed out the potential danger Ellis posed to the community and his alleged victim.

The 35-year-old came to the attention of local law enforcement after a minor recorded him badgering her for sex, court documents said. During the investigation — sparked after the girl’s therapist turned in the recording — authorities learned Ellis allegedly had repeatedly harassed the girl, a familial relation, and groped her.

She had previously tried to report his behavior, but relatives dismissed the allegations, court documents said.

Authorities charged Ellis with solicitation of incest and sexual assault, victim under 16, or, in the alternative, incest. While awaiting his court appearance in the Lincoln County Detention Center, Ellis allegedly attacked a female officer, menacing her with a glass lamp cover, court documents said. That incident earned him an assault with a weapon charge.

“The court must take into consideration public safety and the safety of the alleged victims of these case[s],” Cuffe wrote.

Given Ellis’ “prior criminal history of failing to appear, and the level of risk posed to the community and the alleged victim, the court is not satisfied that anyone would be adequately protected by reducing [the] defendant’s bond,” Cuffe wrote.

Ellis has denied the charges, pleading not guilty in district court on Oct. 18. According to the affidavit, he told authorities that he was aware he was being recorded and was actually telling the girl he did not want to engage in sexual acts. He accused her of editing the recording.

Ellis is expected back in court Jan. 3 for an omnibus hearing. A pretrial conference is scheduled for Feb. 7.

The sexual assault felony charge carries a penalty of between four and 100 years — or life — with the Montana State Prison, and a fine of up to $50,000. Solicitation of incest is similarly punishable by a $50,000 fine and up to 100 years in prison, but omits the minimum sentence of four years behind bars.

Assault with a weapon is punishable by up to 20 years behind bars and a fine of $50,000.