Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Jury convicts Russell in car crash that killed three students

KELSO, Wash. - Frederick Russell, who fled to Ireland after being accused of causing a car wreck that killed three college students, was convicted Tuesday of vehicular homicide.

Russell, 28, was convicted of three counts of vehicular homicide and three counts of vehicular assault in the 2001 crash that killed three Washington State University students and injured three others.

He was accused of being drunk, speeding, and trying to pass in a no-passing zone when his vehicle slammed head-on into another car on State Route 270, the highway between the two college towns of Pullman, Wash. and Moscow, Idaho.

After his arrest and release on bail in 2001, Russell fled to Ireland, where he was found in 2005 after making the U.S. Marshals Service's "Most Wanted" list. He was extradited to the United States in 2006, the first time in 20 tries that the Irish government granted a request to extradite someone to the U.S.

The verdict came a day after Russell's lawyer, Francisco Duarte, urged Superior Court jurors not to consider the flight to Ireland in making their judgment. He also compared his client's ordeal to the 1993 movie "The Fugitive" and spent much of his argument trying to discredit a key prosecution witness.

Prosecutor Lana Weinmann responded that "this isn't Hollywood. This is the real world."

Killed in the crash were Brandon Clements, 22, of Wapato, a Washington State University senior; and fellow WSU students Stacy Morrow, 21, of Milton, and Ryan Sorensen, 21, of Westport. Three others were badly injured.

Duarte said that death threats and the fear he wouldn't receive a fair trial were the only reasons Russell fled.

"What is a 21-year-old man who becomes public enemy No. 1 overnight supposed to do when he knows he's not going to get a fair trial?" Duarte asked the jury during closing arguments Monday. "In Eastern Washington, he is the devil."

Jurors rejected the defense's claim that Russell's blood alcohol level results were not credible, or that the accident was caused instead by another driver.

Prosecutors said Russell had been drinking vodka at a party earlier on the night of the crash, and then went to a bar where he continued to drink and play pool.

At a hospital after the crash, Russell's blood-alcohol level measured .128 percent, well above Washington state's intoxication threshold of 0.08.

The trial was moved to southwest Washington's Cowlitz County from Whitman County in southeast Washington because of extensive news coverage.

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