Ex-Morgan bookkeeper: not guilty in felony, guilty in misdemeanor

Published 8:22 pm Thursday, October 18, 2012

After three days of testimony, a Dallas County jury found former Morgan Academy bookkeeper Janet Ellison not guilty of first-degree theft Thursday. However, Ellison was found guilty on a second, misdemeanor charge of misapplication of funds during her employment at the school.

“While I am disappointed that she wasn’t found guilty of theft first, I am certainly pleased the jury held her responsible for the money taken,” Rick Williams, one of the prosecuting attorneys, said after the verdict was read. He said the fact she was held responsible for the missing money was what Morgan Academy wanted to prove all along.

Ellison’s attorney, P. Vaughan Russell, said the statute of misapplication of funds is somewhat strange to him.

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“The statute that she was found guilty of is relatively new and really obscure and when the jury asked for an explanation (from) the judge all he could do was read it to them again,” Russell said. “So we were pleased the jury did not find her guilty of a felony. We are pleased for Morgan that this matter is completed.”

According to the statute, “A person commits the crime of misapplication of property if, with knowledge that he is misapplying and that the misapplication involves substantial risk of loss or detriment to the owner of the property or to a person for whose benefit the property was entrusted, he misapplies or disposes of property that has been entrusted to him as a fiduciary or that is property of the government or a financial institution.”

District Attorney Michael Jackson said 12 months in jail is the maximum on the charge. Wiggins said following a pre-sentence investigation, which the defense requested, Ellison would be sentenced Dec. 13. A pre-sentence investigation is generally used to investigate the history of a person convicted of a crime before sentencing to determine if there are extenuating circumstances that may affect the sentence handed down.

“It has just been such a burden and it is great to know I won’t have to worry about it anymore,” Ellison said after the verdict was read. “Day and night this is what we have worried about.”

It was that worry, that “hell” as she called it during testimony, that Ellison said was the toughest part of the charges that were filed against her.

“The hell we have gone through … you can imagine after this happened the devastation, the shock, the embarrassment,” Ellison said while crying on the stand Thursday. “This has been so devastating to my husband and I. Every morning as we are having our coffee together, and our prayer time, we discuss this whole thing. Every night before we go to bed we discuss this.”

In the defense’s questioning of Ellison she was asked about why she purchased money orders in cash to pay off credit cards at retail stores such as Anne Taylor.

“This was my own personal credit card and the bill was mailed to my home where my husband got it out of the mailbox and there was plenty of cash and stuff that we kept in our fire safe and I was able to get cash out of the safe and go shopping,” Ellison said.

The prosecution pointed out in the cross examination of the Ellison family accountant, James Siddens, that these cards were opened in 2009 and closed in 2010 — the time frame in which Ellison was accused of stealing more than $56,000 from Morgan Academy.

Current headmaster for Morgan, Martha McKnight, who took her position this year, said nothing would change at Morgan following this trial.

“This was not a Morgan mistake, this was an individual person,” McKnight said. “This does not tarnish Morgan. We have a very strong school, we have an outstanding faculty, our children are trustworthy and I have no reservations about being a part of leadership at Morgan even after this.”