Pleasantville woman’s conviction overturned in deadly stabbing of Atlantic City couple
A Pleasantville woman’s conviction in the deadly 2018 stabbing of an Atlantic City couple was overturned last week when an appellate panel ruled her Miranda rights were violated.
Rollie Ellis, now 33, pleaded guilty in January 2020, after a judge denied the defense’s motion to suppress her confession in the attack that killed Jennifer Rodriguez and wounded the woman’s husband.
But that confession should not have been allowed, the judges found.
She is now in the Atlantic County Justice Facility awaiting a Feb. 9 court hearing, after being transferred from the Edna Mahan Correction Facility, where she has served about three years of her 20-year sentence.
Police were alerted to the attack when the couple separately escaped their apartment at 3 S. Iowa Ave. the morning of April 11, 2018.
Jennifer Rodriguez, 35, collapsed in the Atlantic City Public Safety Building after climbing out her window across the street from the station.
She was pronounced dead a short time later at the hospital.
Her husband, Raphy Rodriguez, also escaped, flagging down a police officer.
He would later tell police that Ellis was smoking crack cocaine with his wife when another man forced his way in and started attack Ellis.
Ellis left the apartment, but returned with two knives, stabbing the couple multiple times.
Ellis was in the hospital with stab wounds when detectives arrived to question her a short time after the attack.
She was unresponsive when they first arrived, and then invoked her right to remain silent the second time, according to the ruling.
When detectives arrived hours later to place Ellis under arrest, she asked to talk to someone.
“Can I just talk to someone about something?” she asked, according to body camera recordings quoted in the appeal decision.
“I don’t know what the hell is going on. I did not stab (Jennifer) … I didn’t stab her,” Ellis said. “I don’t understand. How do I get stabbed, stab her and myself? [Unintelligible] he stabbed us.”
She is then told that the detectives can’t talk to her because she invoked her right to remain silent.
“I need to know what is going on,” Ellis tells them. “I don’t have a lawyer. I don’t even have contact to a lawyer. I don’t have no money for a lawyer. I just need to know what’s going on. I know I didn’t stab her.”
When the detective asks if that means she now wants to talk to them, Ellis says yes. The detectives then get clearance from an assistant prosecutor and re-read her Miranda rights.
But Ellis did not seek the detectives out nor did she clarify that she no longer wanted an attorney, her rights were violated, the judges ruled in the appeal decision.
“We find it troubling that, before she eventually waived her right to remain silent, defendant wanted to ‘talk to someone,’ but she was not afforded the opportunity to clarify if she still wanted to talk to an attorney,” the judges wrote.
Ellis is also entitled to withdraw her guilty plea.
“We are pleased with the Appellate Division’s well-reasoned opinion recognizing that the police violated Rollie Ellis’s right to an attorney and reaffirming the significance of that essential constitutional protection,” Cody T. Mason of the state Public Defender’s Office told NJ Advance Media.