Ella French trial: Verdict for Emonte Morgan announced in killing of Chicago police officer

A jury, on Tuesday night, found Emonte Morgan guilty in the August 2021 murder of Chicago Police Officer Ella French after deliberating for just over three hours.

It was an emotional trial for French's family, who hugged through tears once they learned her killer would be behind bars.

In addition to a guilty verdict for first-degree murder in the death of Officer French, Morgan, 23, was also found guilty of attempted first-degree murder in connection to French's partner, Officer Carlos Yanez, who was seriously injured in the attack, and a third police officer, Joshua Blas.

After closing arguments on Tuesday, the jury began deliberating around 3:45 p.m. Shortly before 6 p.m., the jury posed a question to the judge, prompting prosecutors and defense attorneys to briefly reconvene in the courtroom.

Then, at about 7:05 p.m., the jury announced they had reached a verdict.

Every seat in the courtroom was filled when the verdict was read. In attendance, were dozens of Cook County Sheriff’s deputies and Chicago police officers, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, and the families of French, Yanez, and Blas.

Their families did not comment publicly on the verdict Tuesday night; however, Foxx addressed the media.

"We are incredibly gratified by the jury's verdict today, but it is difficult to feel anything other than sadness about the senseless murder of a Chicago police officer killed in the line of duty, who laid her life on the line on behalf of the people of Cook County," said Foxx.

The president of the police union also spoke.

"I know there’s a lot of allegations by the defense, they couldn’t have been more contrived and made-up, they were almost fairytale-ish in many ways. I’m glad the jury saw through that and did the right thing," said John Catanzara, president, Chicago’s Fraternal Order of Police.

French’s former commander spoke as well.

"It's been a very trying week for the families of these members, it’s been a very trying week for the Chicago Police Department, the City of Chicago, its residents, we all hurt through this incident, and this is one step closer," said 8th District Commander Bryan Spreyne.

Morgan's attorneys did not speak with the media after the verdict was read, but his mom – who has defended her son throughout the trial – did.

When Morgan was brought back into the courtroom Tuesday night, he blew his mother a kiss before his fate was announced.

"It was impossible for the jury to give my son a fair trial," said Evalena Flores, the defendant's mom. "I'm hurting right now, but I believe, and I have full faith my son will receive justice one day."

The fatal shooting of Officer French occurred in August 2021.

In September 2021, Emonte Morgan was indicted on 85 counts for his role in the fatal shooting of Officer French during a traffic stop in West Englewood. Morgan was also accused of attempted first-degree murder of Officer Yanez and Officer Blas, as well as multiple charges linked to aggravated battery and unlawful use of a weapon.

Officer French, who was 29 at the time of her death, and two other officers, Officer Yanez and Officer Blas, stopped Emonte Morgan and his brother, Eric Morgan, on Aug. 7, 2021, for having expired plates near the intersection of 63rd Street and Bell Avenue.

The brothers got out of the car when told to, but, Emonte refused to put down a drink and cell phone he was holding.

Prosecutors said he got into a struggle with police, while Eric ran off, and at some point, Emonte started shooting, striking both French and Yanez.

Both officers were transported to the University of Chicago Medical Center, where Officer French died from her injuries. Officer Yanez was left paralyzed.

Eric pleaded guilty in Cook County court last October to unlawful use of a weapon, aggravated battery and obstruction of justice.

Under the plea agreement with the Cook County State's Attorneys, Eric will be sentenced to seven years for the weapons charge. This sentence would run concurrently with five- and three-year sentences for the other two charges he faces.

Jamel Danzy, the so-called straw purchaser of the gun used to kill French, was sentenced in December 2022 to 30 months in prison by a federal judge. 

A sentencing date for Emonte Morgan has not yet been set, but a date for post-trial motions will take place on April 19.

Ella French Trial Day 1

On the first day of the trial, prosecutors played graphic police bodycam video of French's murder.

Elizabeth French, Ella's mother, was surrounded by a large contingent of Chicago police officers as she arrived at the Leighton criminal courthouse on Tuesday, Feb. 27.

During opening statements, prosecutor Scott Clark walked the jury through the chaotic traffic stop in Englewood in August 2021, telling them, "I am sorry you will have to see and hear the things you are going to have to see and hear in this trial."

Elizabeth French was called as the first witness, remembering her last phone call with her daughter.

"I said what I always said, that I loved her and take care and be safe," French said.

Then, Officer Joshua Blas took the stand. He was part of the community policing detail with Ella French and Yanez.

During his testimony, prosecutors played graphic and violent video taken from the three body-worn police cameras, showing Morgan refusing to comply with officers and then diving back into the car, after which multiple shots were heard.

One of the jurors wept as that video was played, but Morgan watched without any emotion.

Morgan‘s mother was also in the courtroom, and during a break in the trial said that her son is not a cop killer.

Emonte Morgan (left) and Ella French | Chicago police

"It was an accident. The officer, Yanez, and Monte, my son, were struggling with this gun. Monte never pulled it out of his waist. It fell off when they were in the car, and they were struggling with this gun. Yanez, even my son got grazed on his arm. That's simply what it was. They were struggling with the gun inside of the car," said Evaleena Flores.

The courtroom was packed all day with at least 60 officers, many of them standing and another dozen or so in the hallway listening in.

Chicago Police Superintendent Larry Snelling was also present.

Ella French Trial Day 2

On the second day of French's murder trial, the jury heard from her partner, Officer Yanez, who was severely injured in the shooting.

Yanez walked up to the stand with a bit of a limp on Wednesday. It's a miracle he's alive after being shot five times during the 2021 traffic stop that killed his partner.

While on the stand, Yanez told jurors he remembers pulling over the suspect's vehicle, but then his memory goes blank until he remembers lying on the ground and hearing more gunshots.

"As I was fighting to breathe, I heard gunfire right above me and then I heard Josh screaming," Yanez said. 

He was referring to officer Joshua Blas, who returned fire and hit Morgan. 

"I was completely paralyzed," he said. 

Yanez became emotional and wiped away tears as he watched body camera videos from the three police officers at the shooting scene.

He also described at length the impact the shooting has had on him physically, pointing to bullet scars on top of his head, his neck and his shoulder. 

Bullet fragments remain lodged in his body. He also lost an eye and suffers from tinnitus that he says sounds like a fire alarm going off constantly. 

Yanez spent months at a rehab center recovering from his injuries and is now on duty disability, working for the Fraternal Order of Police. 

Jurors also heard testimony from a neighbor who stopped Morgan's brother Eric as he fled the scene and from a former police officer who described finding the murder weapon next to Morgan's shoe in that neighbor's yard. 

Remembering Ella French

Two years after her death, Chicago continues to remember fallen Officer French. She is remembered for her optimism and hope, being "the best this city has to offer," and "truly Chicago's finest."

On Aug. 7, 2023, on the two-year anniversary of her death, a memorial roll call was held for her at the Gold Star Families Memorial and Park. Fellow Chicago police officers and French's mother were in attendance. The memorial roll call marked her end of watch and celebrated her as a true hero.

Mayor Brandon Johnson released a statement on the two-year anniversary of French's death, saying: "Today we honor the memory and remember the life of CPD officer Ella French, who lost her life protecting others. As we mourn her passing today, we keep all first responders in our thoughts, as working as a first responder requires a unique and remarkable form of bravery to rise every day to confront perilous situations."

A week before the two-year anniversary of French's death, the Chicago Police Department Mounted Unit welcomed a new horse and named her French. According to the Mounted Unit, naming their horses after fallen officers is a tradition that carries on the legacies of those who have died while serving the city of Chicago. 

Officer French's death also reached those in the suburbs, with the DuPage County Board Commissioner Pete DiCianni establishing a scholarship in honor of her.