An Atlantic City man was sentenced in Superior Court to 50 years in prison Friday for a home invasion that killed a Pleasantville man in 2011.

Ellis Spell Sr. died a hero trying to protect his family from three armed men who broke into his Pleasantville home Dec. 9, 2011, Assistant Prosecutor Seth Levy said.

“He could have run,” Levy said of Spell, who first tried to stop the intruders and then physically fought them, getting shot in the process. “He could have hid. He could have jumped out a window.”

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But protecting his family is what the 51-year-old man did, loved ones said outside the Mays Landing courtroom.

Jeremiah Jackson, 21, broke down in tears as he talked about being “in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people” when he and two others armed with guns forced their way into Spell’s home.

He retold the scenario presented in his defense, saying he was shot during the struggle and ran before Spell was mortally wounded.

“I forgive you,” Katrina Purnell told Jackson in court. “Ellis would want me to forgive you.”

“Thank you,” Jackson replied.

In a letter she addressed to Jackson, and wrote from Spell’s point of view, Purnell, the mother of Spell’s two eldest children, said: “I didn’t see your face, but you saw mine the night you and two other people came into my home and took my life.”

But those other people — who Jackson never identified — are why Jessica Spell said she doesn’t forgive her uncle’s killer.

“If he really wanted forgiveness, he would at least let the family know,” she said outside the courtroom.

The judge agreed.

“The defendant has not taken any steps to identify his co-conspirators,” Superior Court Judge Mark Sandson said. “(Jackson) has continued to protect the others involved in this crime.”

“I just pray he gives up the other two names,” Spell’s daughter Laneika said.

Jackson must serve at least 42½ years of his sentence. With time served, he would be about 63 when he is eligible for parole.

“He’s made some bad decisions in his life, but it’s certainly not a case where he should be warehoused,” defense attorney Robert Gamburg said. “When he’s released, he will be a much better person than the person who went into jail at a young age.”

“He’s not being warehoused,” Levy told the judge. “He’s being punished.

Outside the courtroom, Levy complimented the family for their forgiveness.

“The law and the criminal justice system are not about forgiveness, it’s about punishment and justice,” he said. “I believe the punishment fits the crime.”

Contact Lynda Cohen:


@LyndaCohen on Twitter

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