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Jury acts quickly in murder trial

It didn’t take long for a jury to find 23-year-old Jerry Lee Farrow guilty of murdering Faith Ellison, his girlfriend and the mother of his child, at her Oak Harbor home Aug. 4.

After deliberating less than two hours over lunch Monday, the jury in Island County Superior Court returned a verdict of guilty for second-degree murder with a deadly weapon and third-degree assault with a deadly weapon.

Farrow, a Michigan resident, shot the 23-year-old Navy petty officer in the head with a 9mm handgun while she was lying half in-bed in the bedroom of her Grouse Avenue home. The couple’s 4-year-old daughter was asleep in a nearby bedroom.

Farrow would face up to 23 years in prison under the standard sentencing range. Chief Criminal Prosecutor Steve Selby, however, said he plans to ask Judge Vickie Churchill to impose an exceptional sentence beyond that because it was a crime of domestic violence. The law allows exceptional sentences for many different factors, including domestic violence. The sentencing hearing hasn’t been set yet.

Valerie Stafford, the executive director of Citizens Against Domestic and Sexual Abuse, said the case is a classic example of how domestic abuse can turn into murder.

“He killed her during the process of her probably leaving him,” she said. “That’s what we try to teach people. That’s when it’s the most violent and dangerous. When the victim is trying to leave and there’s no more cards to play.”

Friends of the couple from Oak Harbor testified during the four-day trial that Farrow was very jealous and angry with Ellison the night before the murder. He told several people that he thought she had cheated on him. He was out late with a friend, complaining bitterly about her, and then returned to her home early in the morning.

“He was really, really angry when he went there,” Selby said in closing arguments. “Jealousy and revenge. That was his motivation.”

While Farrow didn’t take the stand in his defense, he initially told police and the 911 operator that they had been “playing” with the gun and Ellison was accidentally shot in the head. His attorney, Tom Pacher of Coupeville, argued in his closing that police didn’t investigate the possibility of an accident or suicide, leaving a reasonable doubt of his guilt.

“They came to a conclusion. They leapt to it, stuck to it and brought it to you...” Pacher told the jury. “There was no attempt to rule out accident, no attempt to rule out suicide.”

“He was a scared young kid in a horrific situation and they leapt to conclusions,” he added.

Prosecutor Selby, however, countered with the incriminating fact that Farrow admitted he shot Ellison in an interview with Oak Harbor Detective Teri Gardner. He called Farrow a “violent person” with a history of domestic abuse. Farrow had twice before threatened Ellison with the same gun, pointing it at her face, according to Selby.

It was because of Farrow’s history of violence and the cruelty of the murder itself that Selby said he refused to plea bargain with Farrow. In fact, Selby said Pacher came to him during the trial to make a deal for his client, but Selby refused.

“I refused to offer them anything,” he said. “I thought the charge was too serious.”

Selby also said he learned a lot about Ellison from talking to her friends. She was popular, enjoyed her work in the Navy and was a good mother.

“Everyone I talked to liked her,” he said. “She was a very upbeat, happy person. Very nice. She just got hooked up with the wrong guy.”

Ellison was from Saginaw, Mich., and had joined the Navy about three years ago. She had been stationed at VP-1 at the naval air station since February 1999.

The couple’s 4-year-old daughter, Diamond, is now living with her maternal grandmother in Michigan.

Stafford said she just feels very sad about the needlessness of the murder.

“He looked so young,” she said. “He ruined his life and took hers and that child will never have a normal life. ... There’s no reason this had to happen. He could have just let go and found someone else.”

The lesson to be learned from the case, Stafford said, is that domestic violence is a community concern that affects everyone. She pointed out that a number of people knew that Farrow was very angry that night and many knew that he had pointed a gun at Ellison twice before, but nobody intervened.

“They seemed to think it was none of their business,” she said, “but here it’s everyone’s business and it has affected so many people. He ruined three people’s lives.”

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