A Kansas City man admitted in court to firing bullets into a Kansas City apartment in June 2020 in an act that killed 4-year-old LeGend Taliferro, a boy whose death sparked outrage across Kansas City and led to a federal anti-crime initiative.
Ryson B. Ellis, 24, entered guilty pleas to second-degree felony murder, armed criminal action and unlawful use of a deadly weapon during a hearing on Friday afternoon in Jackson County Circuit Court. Ellis was sentenced to spend up to 22 years in Missouri prison.
Under the terms of his guilty pleas, Ellis was sentenced to serve 20 years for murder, three years for armed criminal action and 22 years for unlawful use of a weapon. His sentences were set to run concurrently. His murder conviction carries a minimum prison stay of 17 years.
Addressing the judge directly, Ellis spoke in brief statements, answering in the affirmative or negative, as he was advised of his rights and questioned by Judge Charles H. McKenzie. His prison sentence was part of a plea agreement struck between Ellis’ public defenders and Jackson County prosecutors.
The shooting of LeGend unfolded in the early hours of June 29, 2020 at an apartment complex in Kansas City’s Citadel neighborhood. Police officers were called to the scene around 2:30 a.m. on a report of a shooting involving a juvenile victim.
Detectives and crime-scene personnel learned the gunshots were fired from behind a privacy fence and that the bullets entered through a first-floor apartment’s glass sliding doors. LeGend was asleep inside when he was mortally wounded.
Witness statements and some anonymous tips led detectives to land on Ellis as a suspect. Ellis has a child in common with a relative of LeGend who had recently sought an order of protection against him and was staying in the apartment the night of the shooting.
Ellis was arrested a few weeks later in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He has spent the past two years in the Jackson County jail.
As he was escorted to and from the courtroom, Ellis made no statements to news reporters. When he was being brought back to the Jackson County jail, where he will stay until his transfer to Missouri prison, his defense attorney Laura O’Sullivan declined to comment.
On Friday, the courtroom was packed with LeGend’s family members. Some brought photographs of the young boy printed out on sheets of paper, and waved them to news cameras stationed beside the elevators on the downtown courthouse’s fifth floor.
Among those speaking in court were the parents of LeGend, Raphael Taliferro and Charron Powell.
Over the past two years, Powell recalled watching videos of her son just so she could hear him call her “mommy.” She said she has long wondered what she would say when the moment came to address the court when Ellis was convicted.
“Honestly, what do you say when the best part of you is taken?” she said, adding: “I miss my son so much.”
Raphael Taliferro recalled being at the apartment the night his son was shot. He offered a brief statement as he looked across the room directly at Ellis: “God going to forgive you, but I’m not.”
During a brief press conference outside the courtroom on Friday, family members stood beside Jackson County prosecutors to discuss the outcome two-and-a-half years after that night.
Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Theresa Crayon said the conviction and sentencing stands as an example of an outcome where community assistance with police and prosecutors helped to resolve a “very tragic case.”
In 2020, outrage over LeGend’s killing spurred a federal anti-crime initiative called Operation LeGend, leading to several arrests in various cases. U.S. Attorney General William Barr announced the movement at a press conference in Kansas City, saying it was “flattening the curve” of crime in the city.
Powell, speaking to the federal initiative on Friday, said she and the family felt that LeGend had been honored by the new movement to solve violent crimes. But she also noted many remain unsolved, and “we still have a long way to go.”
“We want to continue to help other people,” Powell said, adding that the events that led to her son’s death stemmed from one person expressing anger through violence.
“We as a community, and for LeGend’s legacy, I want to help people learn how to control their anger so they won’t make a mistake like this. Because in reality, he has kids, he has a family that he won’t be able to enjoy. And we lost our son.”