By DIANE CARROLL
The Kansas City Star
Sue Ellmaker saw her son struggle with mental illness at an early age, she said Thursday in Johnson County District Court.
But when Andrew R. Ellmaker became an adolescent, she said, it overwhelmed him.
He walked the hallways of his high school alone and wore a black sweatshirt with the hood pulled over his eyes, Sue Ellmaker said. She placed her son in institutions until her insurance benefits ran out and then had to let him live at home.
But those words did not impress the husband of Teri Zenner, the mental health caseworker whom Andrew Ellmaker killed in 2004. Matt Zenner asked Judge Peter Ruddick to sentence the 20-year-old to life in prison with no chance of parole for 50 years.
Before Ruddick did just that, Zenner addressed Ellmaker, who showed no emotion Thursday or throughout his trial.
“I’m sick and tired of hearing about mental illness,” Zenner said. “Stand up and be a man. You sit there and stare at the floor. … It’s beyond my comprehension that you were able to do it.”
Teri Zenner, 26, had stopped by Ellmaker’s Overland Park home on Aug. 17, 2004, for a routine home visit. He had just finished his second day of the school year at Shawnee Mission South High School.
As a caseworker for the Johnson County Mental Health Center, Zenner was trying to help Ellmaker get a part-time job and build life skills.
When Ellmaker’s mother came home, the two were upstairs in his bedroom, and Zenner was crying. Sue Ellmaker tried to get her son to come downstairs. Eventually, Zenner broke free and ran downstairs as Ellmaker chased her with a knife.
Sue Ellmaker tried to intervene but was stabbed. She ran next door for help.
When officers arrived, they found Zenner dead on the dining room floor. She had been stabbed to death and cut with a chainsaw.
In May, a jury found Andrew Ellmaker guilty of first-degree murder in Zenner’s death and aggravated battery in the stabbing of his mother. Juveniles are not eligible for the death penalty; he was 17 at the time.
Public defender Patrick Lewis asked Ruddick to sentence Ellmaker to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years.
“Andrew must be punished,” Lewis said, “but there is still an appropriate level of pity because of his mental illness.”
During the next 25 years, new research might lead to the help Ellmaker needs to live safely in a community, Lewis argued. At any rate, he said, the parole board should have the option of reviewing his case then.
Deputy District Attorney Stephen Maxwell, however, said the murder “cries out” for the maximum — the Hard 50.
“This defendant committed acts of atrocity that are shocking and evil,” Maxwell said.
Besides holding Zenner in his bedroom at knifepoint and stabbing her, Maxwell said, he used a chain saw without knowing whether she was alive or dead.
Maxwell also asked for the maximum — 43 months — in the stabbing of Sue Ellmaker and wanted the sentence to run consecutively with the life sentence. But Ruddick issued a 41-month sentence and ran it concurrently, in accordance with Sue Ellmaker’s wishes.
During the hearing on whether the Hard 50 should be imposed, Overland Park Detective Jeff Cohee testified for the state that Ellmaker had had thoughts and fantasies for at least two years of killing his mother and others and of beheading someone.
Defense witness William Logan, a physician who specializes in psychiatry, testified that his review of the case and interviews with Ellmaker and his mother showed that the son had a long history of mental illness.
As a baby, Ellmaker did not like to be cuddled, Logan said. Growing up, he had trouble connecting with others, he said, and was very inflexible. Once, Logan said, Ellmaker refused to get out of a bathtub for three days.
By age 10, he was hearing voices, Logan said.
Sue Ellmaker said her son was not taking his medication when the murder occurred.
“But mental illness does not excuse what Andrew did,” she said.
She apologized to Zenner’s family and friends and said she believed her son was remorseful. He just can’t express himself, she said.
Most members of Zenner’s family who addressed the court said they found it impossible to forgive Andrew Ellmaker.
“It was not her time to go,” said Brianne Zenner, Matt Zenner’s sister.
Matt and Teri Zenner had been married only a couple of months.
Matt Zenner told the court that he and his wife were in one of the happiest periods in their lives. His wife was a wonderful, sweet and caring person, he said, and loved his daughter, 12-year-old Alayna. They were hoping to add to their family.
Teri Zenner’s father, Andy Mathis, said his daughter was the kind of person who lit up a room. Her laughter was infectious, he said. Now, he said, she is “lighting up heaven.”
His daughter gained through death, Mathis said, because now she is with her Creator and with her mother, who died of breast cancer when Zenner was in high school.
“The only ones hurting are those left behind,” he said.
Friday, July 20, 2007
By DIANE CARROLL
Posted by david at 6:35 PM Permalink