Sean Ellis was 19 years old in 1993 when he was arrested for the murder of a Boston police officer, having unwittingly placed himself at the scene of the crime in an unrelated police interview. He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison in 1995, and spent 22 years in jail before he was released on bail in 2015. His fourth scheduled trial was cancelled amid revelations of police corruption in his case in 2018, and all charges against him were dropped. Netflix’s latest true crime docuseries Trial 4 follows Ellis on his journey through the corrupt and biased American justice system and courts. Instrumental in Ellis’ 1995 conviction and incarceration after his first two mistrials was prosecutor Phyllis Broker.
A graduate from the Northeastern University School of Law in Boston in the 1970s, Phyllis Broker practiced law both publicly and privately before Sean Ellis’ 1995 trial. At the time, Broker was serving as the Assistant District Attorney, and was made the Chief Prosecutor in the state’s case against Ellis and the separate case against Terry Patterson, his friend he was with the night of detective John Mulligan’s death. She argued that the murder was a random crime of opportunity—that the pair had killed the Detective, who was asleep in his car outside Walgreens, as they wanted to steal his gun.
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“Mulligan died because he wore a badge, and his gun was stolen because his alleged killers wanted a ‘trophy’ from their victim,” Broker said at Ellis’s third trial. Her theory was that after Sean Ellis had purchased the diapers he was asked to buy for his cousin, he and Patterson parked their vehicle on a residential street nearby and walked back to Walgreens through the woods to kill Mulligan. Broker successfully convinced Ellis’s third jury of his guilt, and he was convicted of first-degree murder and armed robbery and sent to Walpole State prison to begin a life sentence without the possibility of parole.
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Broker testified remotely over video in Ellis’s 2014-2015 evidentiary hearings before he was released on bail. She was accused of withholding important evidence from the jury in 1995, but testified that she had “no specific memory” of particular documents in the case and could only describe her “general practice” in handling discovery materials. Ellis was released on bail after these hearings revealed police corruption and impropriety in the case, and later, all charges against him were dropped.
By then a Justice, Phyllis Broker retired in 2010 from the Woburn District Court in Middlesex County, Massachusetts, five years before Sean Ellis was freed.
Lauren Kranc is an editorial assistant at Esquire, where she covers pop culture and television, with entirely too narrow of an expertise on Netflix dating shows.
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