Against a stormy backdrop of feuding families, an angry judge and a snarling denial of guilt, Roy Wayne Russell received a sentence of life without parole Friday for killing 14-year-old Chelsea Harrison.
The sentence offered no surprises. The conviction, Russell’s third felony, automatically triggered the life sentence under Washington’s three-strikes law. But the acrimony and emotion shown during the 50-minute hearing weren’t a part of courtroom routine and prompted a rare judicial opinion on a defendant’s guilt.
“You are the poster boy for the three-strike act,” said Clark County Superior Court Judge John P. Wulle. “The jury was right to convict you.”
The sentence closes, for now, one of the most sensational murder trials in recent Clark County history. It attracted intense public attention with its tales of teenage drinking, sex and drug use, and tweaked the deep-seated fears of every parent.
On Jan. 24, a 12-woman jury convicted Russell, 45, of second-degree murder, second-degree felony murder and first-degree manslaughter in the suffocation of Harrison, an Evergreen High School freshman.
During the hearing, Harrison’s friends and family expressed anger, hatred and sadness. They remembered the little girl who loved animals and wanted to be a veterinarian and mourned the lost high school prom, graduation day and the possibility of children of her own.
Harrison’s grandmother, Sylvia Johnson, said she thought Russell killed Harrison after she refused his sexual advances.
“I believe you tried to rape Chelsea, and I believe she fought you,” she told him. “Who wouldn’t fight someone as repulsive as you?”
Russell remained impassive, occasionally shrugging his shoulders.
His family, though, stuck up for him.
“He’s not a monster, he’s not an animal, he’s not a killer,” said Lucille Rush, his aunt. “The family still loves him and we’re behind him 100 percent.”
At one point, tensions between the family of the victim and the family of the perpetrator spilled out.
“Where were you guys when he received his first felony (conviction), his second, his third and now his fourth?” said Nicole LaJoie, Harrison’s sister.
“Where were you,” responded Rush when it was her turn, “when she was out drinking, partying, doing drugs and being sexually active?”
Wulle put a stop to the feud and ordered family members to direct their comments to him.
Revelation in ‘four days’
Russell vehemently denied killing Harrison.
“So don’t expect me to show any remorse, regret, emotion or anything that a guilty person should display,” he said.
“This trial and prosecution of me has not served any purpose whatsoever other than to sell newspapers and give the town something to talk about until the next unspeakable act occurs.”
He said he knew the killer’s identity and would reveal the name in “four days.”
He did not explain why he didn’t bring up the matter earlier, when it might have aided in his defense.
Russell also criticized the judge’s trial management, the accuracy of cell phone records, the reliability of witnesses, the accuracy of news coverage and police management of the crime scene.
“As for my jurors, if you really believe they did not read, view or discuss this case prior to deliberations, then you are a fool.”
Wulle broke in and he was angry.
“Hang on a minute, Mr. Russell,” he said.
“Do not sit in that chair and use your right of elocution to call this court a fool. I will listen to you, sir, but I will not accept insults from you. Do you understand me?”
‘A lure for teenagers’
Russell continued and berated the news media, singling out The Columbian’s coverage in particular.
“I tried in vain at the beginning to tell my side of the story to the media but to no avail,” he said. “I even called Don Hamilton of The Columbian with an interview from jail. After reading his article, I realized that he’s not after truth, just a beefy headline. The National Enquirer has more integrity than our own Columbian newspaper will ever have.”
The paper spoke with Russell twice by phone from the Clark County jail but he provided little unreported information. At one point, he invited DNA tests, proclaiming there was no way any of his DNA could have been found on Harrison’s body. But DNA material that almost certainly came from Russell was found under one of Harrison’s fingernails and proved to be a critical piece of evidence.
In his comments from the bench, Wulle said he doubted Russell’s story.
“The evidence showed you set up a lure for teenagers,” he said. “That lure was what’s commonly known as drugs, sex and rock ‘n’ roll.”
“I worked very hard to make sure you got a fair trial,” he said. “I bent over backwards to protect your constitutional rights, and I resent your comments to this court.”
Russell asked for another chance to speak, but Wulle said no.
“Mr. Russell will not have the last word in my court.”