OCALA, Fla. – A woman who had been serving a life prison sentence for her role in the 2011 death of 15-year-old Seath Jackson is being released from custody after a federal judge vacated her original first-degree murder conviction.
Charlie Ely, 27, pleaded guilty Wednesday to the lesser charge of second-degree murder as part of a plea agreement that spared her from being put on trial again.
Circuit Court Judge Anthony Tatti then re-sentenced Ely to ten years in prison.
Since Ely has already spent more than nine years in custody and earned additional credit for her time in state prison, she was expected to be released Wednesday, said her attorney, Jose Baez.
“It’s a bittersweet day. I’ve been fighting for her for eight years. I’m really happy that she’s getting out,” Baez said. “But she’s forever scarred. This was a plea of convenience. She maintains her innocence, and the facts show she’s innocent.”
In 2011, authorities believe 15-year-old Amber Wright lured Jackson, her ex-boyfriend, to Ely's Summerfield home.
Prosecutors still contend that Ely, who was 18 years old at the time, also played a role in enticing Jackson to the property, where three young men ambushed and beat him.
Michael Bargo was sentenced to death for fatally shooting Jackson.
Bargo, Justin Soto and Kyle Hooper were also accused of burning the victim’s body in a fire pit and dumping the charred remains in a quarry.
Soto, Hooper, Wright and Ely were each sentenced to life in prison for their roles in Jackson's murder.
Following Ely's trial, Baez unsuccessfully attempted to appeal her conviction in state circuit court and with the Fifth District Court of Appeal.
Baez later filed an appeal in federal court arguing, among other things, that Ely's original trial attorney, Jonathan Bull, made several critical mistakes that deprived Ely of her constitutional right to a fair trial.
In March, a federal judge ruled that Ely received ineffective counsel because her trial attorney failed to object to portions of a law enforcement interrogation video used by prosecutors to convict her.
U.S. District Judge Roy B. Dalton, Jr. granted Ely's request to vacate her conviction and sentence.
“If all parties don’t do their jobs, especially a defense lawyer, this is the result of what could happen,” said Baez.
“This court denied her (appeal). The appellate court denied her. So we had to take it to the federal system for somebody to finally step up and say, ‘Wait a minute. This can’t happen in the United States.’ People are entitled to due process.”
Bull did not immediately respond to a voicemail left by News 6 at a phone number once associated with him.
Bull was suspended from practicing law in 2018, according to the Florida Bar website.
Although State Attorney Brad King could have re-tried Ely for first-degree murder, prosecutors allowed Ely to plead guilty to the lesser charge.
A spokesperson for King did not respond to an email seeking comment. An assistant state attorney who handled Ely's plea agreement in court declined to comment after Wednesday's hearing.
“It’s a terrible tragedy. And Charlie is just another victim of Michael Bargo and company,” said Baez. “She feels terrible for the Jackson family. This is not a day to celebrate.”
When reached by phone, Jackson’s mother, Sonia Jackson, indicated that she was angry about Ely’s release from prison but declined to comment further.