A 19-year-old man was sentenced Friday to 27-1/2 years in prison for killing Ballard convenience-store clerk Manish Melwani during an armed robbery in July 2009.
Elijah Hall, now 19, turned and tearfully addressed the sister of a Ballard convenience-store clerk he killed during an armed robbery in July 2009.
“From the bottom of my heart, deep inside my soul, it kills me to hear you say how this has shattered your family,” Hall said Friday, moments before a King County Superior Court judge sentenced him to 27 ½ years in prison.
“I want you to know this has not been an easy process for me, knowing I took a loved one away from loved ones … to know I did that, me, nobody else. It wasn’t anybody else’s fault but mine.”
But Pooja Herkishnani wasn’t convinced of Hall’s remorse, though she was satisfied with the sentence handed down by Judge Mariane Spearman.
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When a jury found Hall guilty of first-degree murder in October for killing Herkishnani’s younger brother, Manish Melwani, Hall “didn’t have any regret, not a single feeling, just a smile,” she said.
Senior Deputy Prosecutor Cheryl Snow had sought a 30-year sentence, while defense attorney Christopher Swaby requested 25 years, which was below the standard range, arguing that Hall’s youth and traumatic upbringing warranted leniency.
Spearman, the mother of a 17-year-old, said she knows young people make unwise, impulsive decisions, but that was not a sufficient basis to grant Hall a shorter prison term.
“This case is a tragedy for everyone. It saddens me greatly,” said the judge, who believes Hall is “sorry for what he did.”
Just after 6:30 a.m. July 26, 2009, Hall — wearing a disguise and armed with a .38-caliber revolver — entered the Seattle Pit Stop Express convenience store and 76 gas station, a neighborhood business he frequented at 15th Avenue Northwest and Northwest 58th Street.
Melwani, 28, was in a backroom as Hall attempted to open the cash register, grabbing a pair of gloves from a display to avoid leaving prints behind. Melwani returned to the front of the store and dropped the boxes he was carrying when he saw Hall behind the counter.
The two struggled and Hall shot Melwani in the thigh and abdomen before fleeing the store. On his way back to his girlfriend’s apartment, he ditched the gun and dumped his bloody clothes in a neighbor’s yard. Melwani was taken to Harborview Medical Center but died from his injuries.
Hall returned to the crime scene later that morning and calmly talked to a police officer, who grew suspicious after Hall claimed to have heard two gunshots from his apartment several blocks away.
Then 17, Hall was arrested and charged as an adult with first-degree murder. Fingerprints left on a pair of sunglasses that were knocked off Hall’s face during his struggle with Melwani helped police connect Hall to the crime.
Hall pleaded guilty in November 2009 but two months later filed a motion to withdraw his guilty plea, arguing that his defense attorney — the late Tony Savage — provided ineffective counsel and gave Hall incorrect information about the length of his community supervision after his release from prison. Under the plea deal, Hall would have served a little over 23 years behind bars.
Hall was allowed to withdraw his plea and was appointed new attorneys. On Oct. 24, a King County jury found Hall guilty of first-degree murder and second-degree unlawful possession of a firearm.
Sara Jean Green: 206-515-5654 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this report.