Accused shooter faces more charges

Ellis, charged with July 2013 homicide, allegedly threatened witness

A Blair County Sheriff’s deputy escorts Kashif Omar Ellis, 31, from Tyrone District Court on Tuesday after his arraignment on charges he made threats to intimidate Taylor Griffith, one of his alleged conspirators in the shooting death of Steven Hackney. Mirror photo by Greg Bock

The man accused of shooting 37-year-old Steven Hackney to death now faces charges that he threatened one of his alleged conspirators.

Kashif Omar Ellis, 31, is accused of making a sound like a gunshot at 27-year-old Taylor Griffith on March 23 while the pair were in the Blair County Courthouse for an appearance in court ahead of their upcoming homicide trial for Hackney’s shooting death in July 2013.

According to charges filed by the Blair County Sheriff’s Department on Tuesday before Magisterial District Judge Paula Aigner, Ellis allegedly turned to Griffith and made a noise like a gunshot as he was being placed in holding cell No. 1 at the courthouse. Griffith was in holding cell No. 2 and was visibly upset after the alleged incident, Sheriff Deputy Sgt. Kermit Alwine noted in the charges.

Ellis and Griffith were once romantically involved, and after the court appearance on March 23, Griffith told deputies that the sound made by Ellis was “Bllaaattt” and was “the same sound he makes when he acts like he is shooting someone/something,” Griffith allegedly said to deputies.

Griffith was seen by deputies trembling and crying after Ellis made the sound.

“When he did this, based on his previous actions, I was intimidated and nervous,” Griffith told the deputies. “After he was locked in his cell, I cried and became emotional, and I felt like that was [sic] direct threat towards me and my life.”

Included in the new charges was an assertion, originally made in July by Altoona police, that Ellis allegedly discussed killing Griffith when he called a friend from state prison on July 29. In that conversation, Ellis allegedly talked of killing Griffith to “tie up loose ends.”

Ellis, currently being held without bail in the homicide case and also serving a state prison sentence at the State Correctional Institution at Huntingdon, had a court appearance on Tuesday before he was taken to Tyrone District Court for arraignment on the latest charges.

“I don’t answer no questions without an attorney,” Ellis told Magisterial District Judge Fred Miller as the judge started to ask him bail-related questions at his preliminary arraignment in Tyrone District Court.

Miller explained to Ellis, who has a lengthy criminal record, that he was only asking him about his attorney so he could forward the appropriate paperwork on to his counsel, but Ellis again asserted he was not talking without a lawyer present.

When Ellis refused to answer any of the standard questions asked so bail could be set, Miller asked deputies for more information on his current bail situation and what charges he was already facing in the homicide case.

In the latest case, Ellis is charged with felony counts of intimidation of a witness and retaliation against a witness along with a misdemeanor count of terroristic threats. A preliminary hearing before Judge Aigner in Hollidaysburg District Court is scheduled for May 1.

His attorney, Robert Donaldson, said Tuesday afternoon that compared to the charges Ellis faces in the homicide case, the charges in the latest case are trivial.

“I think they’ve overcharged my client,” Donaldson said.

In the homicide case, Ellis and Griffith, along with Qasim L. Sharif Green, are accused of killing Hackney, who police said sold marijuana and heroin and kept a large amount of cash on hand. Jury selection is slated for July 2, and Donaldson said his client has “an extraordinary defense.”

“I think there are a lot of holes in the commonwealth’s case,” Donaldson said, adding it took four years to the day of Hackney’s July 13, 2013, death to bring charges against his client.

Mirror Staff Writer Greg Bock is at 946-7458.