A Fountain man was sentenced to life in prison Wednesday minutes after a jury convicted him of first-degree murder in the August 2019 beating death of the mother of his two children.
Donnell Bradley, 33, assaulted girlfriend Jeanette Darlene Ellingson, 29, until her skull, ribs and arms were fractured and blood was spattered on the walls, furniture and fish tank of their family home, evidence showed. Yet he tried to claim she had fallen in the shower.
“This was one of the most brutal murders I have ever seen,” 4th Judicial District Judge David A. Gilbert said in imposing the mandatory life term after a 10-day trial in Colorado Springs. “The number of bruises, the nightmare scenario that was, is breathtaking and horrible.”
Panelists heard testimony that Bradley subjected the woman and their children to what the judge called a daily campaign of domineering, controlling behavior. He reigned over his family as if they were subjects in a “lordship,” using force to ensure his demands were met, the judge said.
Fountain police responded to the couple’s home on Patchwork Court in August 2019, after Bradley called 911 claiming he found Ellingson unconscious in the shower. He claimed she had just delivered their 6-year-old daughter to school, and had got into the shower still wearing her clothes because she wasn’t feeling well.
A longtime friend of the victim, Olivia Retana, said Bradley kept Ellingson isolated from her friends and loved ones from the time they met in 2011, and that he gradually stripped her of her “ambitions and inspirations.”
“With every bruise, cut (and) broken bone .... He killed a part of me when he killed her,” Retana told the judge. “I’ll never get my best friend back. He took her life and liberty, so I ask that you take his life and liberty.”
No logic or justification could explain Bradley’s “barbaric, explosive, murderous act,” said the victim’s mother, Stephanie Ellingson.
She recalled her daughter as a devoted mother and conveyed a bracing message from her now-8-year-old granddaughter, who said Bradley should “just spend 10,000 years in jail.”
Ellingson was born in Dallas and lived in North Dakota with her family before they moved to the Security-Widefield area in 2000, according to her obituary. She was a 2008 honors graduate from Mesa Ridge High School and previously worked as a certified nurse’s aide, the obituary said. She enjoyed caring for people and wanted to be a physical therapist.
The trial offered “glimpses of a spirited, loving mother,” even as it reflected “every hallmark” of a relationship dominated by domestic violence, in which only Bradley had full standing, the judge said.
“These are his things to do with what he chooses — these children and this woman,” Gilbert said.
Ellingson died at a time when authorities are seeing encouraging progress in disrupting the cycle of domestic violence among some families in El Paso County, the judge said.
“We have seen great success in treatment,” Gilbert said. “We have seen great success in people moving past this.”
But no such help came for Ellingson, the judge added.
“This was a gruesome, animalistic act, and the punishment clearly fits this crime.”
Editor's note: This story has been revised to reflect that Jeanette Darlene Ellingson and Donnell Bradley were unmarried and to provide the correct the spelling of Olivia Retana's last name.