Jurors found Shane R. Lindsay guilty of obstructing justice and not guilty of concealing 18-year-old Dakota Ellerbusch’s death.
Lindsay was released from police custody after the verdict and is scheduled for sentencing at 9 a.m. Sept. 21.
The verdict came just hours after Judge Daniel Emge dismissed three of five charges against Lindsay.
Officials charged Lindsay in Washington County with drug-induced homicide in addition to obstruction of justice by destroying evidence, concealment of a death, unlawful delivery of a controlled substance, and involuntary manslaughter. These came after prosecution twice amended the original charges.
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Emge’s ruling was in response to motions filed by Lindsay’s defense lawyer Friday asking to dismiss all five counts based on a lack of physical evidence, ambiguity in wording of the charges and no officially determined cause of death or toxicology report.
The judge ruled Monday that there was no evidence admitted in the case that Lindsay gave Ellerbusch fentanyl, that fentanyl was in the teen’s system or that the fentanyl caused the teen’s death. The three charges dismissed all explicitly named fentanyl as part of the crime committed.
Ellerbusch’s family was visibly upset outside the courtroom after the ruling.
Joey Essen, a good friend of Ellerbusch’s grandfather John Ellerbusch, said after the ruling the whole family is in disbelief. He said that he believes the initial investigation at the clubhouse after the teen’s body was found was mishandled.
“I think the whole chain of prosecution was mishandled, the evidence was mishandled, the coroner’s stuff was mishandled,” he said. “… It made the whole case go down the drain.”
Final day of testimony
Defense attorney Dennis Hatch called three defense witnesses later Monday morning, including 21-year-old Brandon Barber.
While he was only on the witness stand for a brief time, he told the jurors Ellerbusch walked up to his car just before 1 a.m. Jan. 1 to ask him for a ride. Various testimony throughout the trial suggested the teen died sometime that Saturday.
Even so, Barber said he saw Ellerbusch walk up to him from the direction of the front of the convenience store, where Barber’s three friends were inside purchasing sodas.
“He approached my vehicle and we had a conversation,” Barber testified. “Then he just left.”
However, during cross examination, prosecuting attorney Daniel Bronke played about 20 minutes of the Circle K surveillance footage. During that time, Ellerbusch is not seen; however, Barber’s truck pulling into the gas station is.
Hatch also called Washington County Sheriff Danny Bradac. During questioning, the defense lawyer asked why search warrants, cell phone records, an autopsy or requests for DNA and finger prints on the methadone bottle were never requested by investigators.
Bradac replied that those processes were convoluted and do no happen as easily in the real world, unlike how it’s portrayed on TV.
Lindsay’s father testified as Hatch’s last witness. The man said Lindsay has had a drug problem since he was a young teenager and dropped out of high school because of his addiction.
“He went from a really good kid to a really bad one,” Jacob Lindsay said, noting that he believed Lindsay was high Jan. 27 during his first hours-long interview with police, based on his body language.
The 51-year-old father said days before Ellerbusch died, he kicked the teen and his son out of his home in Okawville for being too high. The two men reportedly went over to another trailer his father uses and had to be kicked out by deputies after they passed out inside the trailer with the heat turned up to 95 degrees.
Lindsay did not take the stand to testify.
In closing statements, Bronke told jurors Lindsay was clearly guilty of lying to the police and concealing the teen’s death.
“As much as Mr. Hatch beat up on the local officers, they are not the ones on trial,” he said.
Hatch countered and said that in his more than 30 years of experience as a prosecutor, judge and defense attorney in Southern Illinois he’s never seen a homicide case brought to trial without a pathologist’s testimony.
“If anyone obstructed justice in this case it’s the Illinois state prosecutor,” he said. “They let the Ellerbusch family down.”
He said the state did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Lindsay is guilty and that the prosecutors should have investigated the woman who allegedly dealt the methadone to Ellerbusch.
In rebuttal, Bronke said Hatch was trying to punish the investigating officers because they “didn’t do what he wanted them to do.”
Jurors were dismissed to begin deliberations about 3:30 p.m.
The obstruction charge accuses Lindsay of giving false information to a Washington County detective “as to the true circumstances surrounding the death of Dakota Ellerbusch and his actions and involvement thereto.”
The concealment charge accuses Lindsay of “lying to and giving misdirection to John Ellerbusch as to the actual physical location of Dakota Ellerbusch,” for the purpose of “preventing or delaying the discovery of the death of Dakota Ellerbusch.”