Ellis gets life sentence for murder

Philadelphia man killed Stephen Hackney in 2013

Kashif Omar Ellis is escorted out of the Blair County Courthouse on Tuesday after receiving a life prison sentence in the 2013 murder of Stephen Hackney. Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec

HOLLIDAYSBURG — A Philadelphia native was sentenced Tuesday to life in prison without parole in the 2013 shooting death and robbery of an Altoona resident, an alleged drug seller who was preparing to go to Erie for his 4-year-old child’s birthday party.

Kashif Omar Ellis, 32, showed no emotion in court Tuesday while Steven L. Hackney’s family members spoke of their heartaches since July 13, 2013, the day Hackney was found dead of gunshot wounds at his residence on the 100 block of Walnut Avenue.

“My father was my backbone, my heart, my everything,” Hackney’s 17-year-old daughter, Quiana said as she wiped away tears while speaking in court.

Quiana’s mother, Rose Ruiz of Erie, said Hackney wasn’t perfect. But she called him a good man and a loving father.

“What you took from us, I can’t even express as a mother,” Ruiz said, directing her comments toward Ellis, who rendered no response in return. “Whatever sentence you get, you deserve every bit of it.”

Judge Elizabeth Doyle, who presided over Ellis’ five-day jury trial in February, imposed the life in prison without parole sentence on the first-degree murder conviction.

The judge added 23.5 to 47 years incarceration for Ellis’ additional convictions including robbery, criminal conspiracy to commit robbery, discharging a firearm into a structure, burglary and witness intimidation.

First Assistant District Attorney Pete Weeks asked Doyle for incarceration time on the offenses beyond first-degree murder in case lawmakers someday reduce life in prison to lesser time.

“There’s no one who wants him out on parole,” Weeks said. “He has lived a life of crime.”

Criminal records referenced in court show Ellis having seven arrests as a juvenile and opportunities through programs to re­form. Records also indicate that he’s been arrested eight time as an adult, including twice in Philadelphia for felony robberies with in­juries.

Trial testimony indicated that on the night Hackney died, Ellis fired three shots when he entered Hackney’s bedroom. Hackney could have survived the first two shots, but not the third bullet that went through his aorta.

“He took the life of Steven Hackney as something he wanted to do,” Weeks said, prompting Ellis to slowly shake his head no in response.

Ellis, when permitted to speak in court, advised Doyle that his constitutional rights had been violated throughout the prosecution of the charges against him. Ellis raised numerous issues in pre-trial proceedings and at one point, took issue with a former court-appointed attorney and told Doyle he would represent himself.

Defense attorney R. Thomas Forr, appointed in the fall to represent Ellis, raised several pre-trial issues that factored into trial proceedings. Ellis promised Tuesday that the appeals will be pursued “to the fullest extent.”

While Hackney died in 2013, it wasn’t until 2017 when Altoona police arrested Ellis, along with Taylor A. Griffith of Hollidaysburg and Qasim L. Shariff Green of Altoona. Trial testimony indicated that the trio had gone to Hackney’s residence to rob Hackney, who was known to have drugs and money. Ellis later was found at the Cedar Grove Motel in Greenwood with Hackney’s duffle bag containing $8,000 in cash, heroin, marijuana and a pair of designer shoes.

Griffith, who testified during Ellis’ trial, is expected to render a guilty plea to third-degree murder. In ex­change, prosecutors are to recommend a sentence of 15 to 30 years of incarceration.

Green, who was to be tried with Ellis, opted to plead guilty to second-degree murder in exchange for a sentence of 10 to 20 years’ incarceration.

Weeks said Tuesday that this case underscores the true cost and danger in­volved with drug trafficking.

“The business … robs fathers from daughters,” Weeks said.

Ruiz said her two daughters, then 11 and 4 years old, last talked with their father, Steven Hackney, about 9:30 p.m. on July 12, 2013, the night before he was to take a bus from Altoona to Erie. She said she had a birthday party planned with a long list of guests and activities.

When the girls went to bed, the mother said, there was a “a little bit of an argument” about whose bunk bed their dad would sleep in while he stayed with them.

She said she told them to stop the arguing and go to sleep.

“You’ll see your dad tomorrow,” Ruiz recalled. “And the next morning, I received a call that no mother wants to get. … My daughters’ father was dead.”

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.