Jury convicts Russell of capital murder in officer's death
by Rachael Brown
rbrown@annistonstar.com
Sep 16, 2013 | 13842 views |  0 comments | 101 101 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Joshua Russell enters the courtroom at Lee County Justice Center in Opelika, Ala., on Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2013 to stand trial for the alleged capital murder of Anniston police officer Justin Sollohub in 2011. Prosecutors say Russell, 26, shot Sollohub in the head during a foot chase on Aug. 24, 2011. (AP Photo/Opelika-Auburn News, Albert Cesare, Pool)
Joshua Russell enters the courtroom at Lee County Justice Center in Opelika, Ala., on Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2013 to stand trial for the alleged capital murder of Anniston police officer Justin Sollohub in 2011. Prosecutors say Russell, 26, shot Sollohub in the head during a foot chase on Aug. 24, 2011. (AP Photo/Opelika-Auburn News, Albert Cesare, Pool)
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OPELIKA – Twelve jurors this afternoon found Joshua Russell guilty of capital murder in the 2011 killing of Anniston police officer Justin Sollohub.

Sollohub’s family and many of his fellow officers waited for a little more than three hours for the jury to reach their verdict.

Jurors had the options of finding Russell guilty of capital murder, guilty of manslaughter or not guilty. The same jurors soon will decide on a sentence to recommend for Russell. He faces death or life in prison without the possibility of parole.

“It’s been a real tough day, but we had faith in the jury” Jeniffer Morris, Sollohub’s mother, said after the verdict was announced by Calhoun County Circuit Judge Brian Howell.

Prosecutors say Russell, 26, shot Sollohub in the head with a .22 caliber pistol while the officer pursued him on Aug. 24, 2011, near 19th Street and Moore Avenue. Russell was apprehended after an hours-long manhunt in the neighborhood where 27-year-old Sollohub was found shot.

The trial was moved to Lee County so it could be presented to a jury with no prior knowledge of the case.

Morris said that she had faith that justice would be served for her son and that right now the case is moving in that direction.

“The state did a fantastic job. I don’t see where there’s anything else they could have said or done for us, for Justin,” she said.

Two witnesses had been set to take the stand for the defense this morning in what would have been the fifth day of testimony in the case, but neither witnesses testified. A discussion between John Robbins, Russell’s court-appointed attorney, Calhoun County District Attorney Brian McVeigh and Howell out of the presence of the jury led to the defense choosing to rest without presenting testimony.

The potential witnesses were two private investigators who interviewed Justin Beard, a man who testified last week that he saw the shooting on Aug. 24, 2011. Robbins said Beard told the investigators during their interview that he believed the shooting was an accident.

McVeigh told Howell he did not have the chance to vet these two witnesses or view their reports and was therefore uncertain of their credibility. McVeigh promised that if the two men perjured themselves on the stand that he would pursue charges.

Robbins conceded and said that instead of presenting testimony he would rest.

Intent to kill

During closing arguments, McVeigh said a person’s intent is proved by their actions, what they did before and what they did after an incident.

“When you pull a gun with one in the chamber, safety off, loaded and you point it at the head of a police officer that is chasing you, what do you think is going to happen?” McVeigh asked the jurors.

“When you shoot somebody in the head with a .22 caliber pistol you intend for them to die,” he said.

McVeigh reminded the jury that Sollohub’s DNA was not found on the gun. If the officer had grabbed the gun in the manner Russell told police, he said, his DNA would have been present.

Robbins asked the jury to hold Russell responsible for his actions by finding him guilty of manslaughter, a lesser charge than capital murder.

“I’ve never said that Joshua Russell was justified in what he did,” Robbins said.

Robbins asked the jury to consider that evidence was missing from the Anniston Crime Lab. Jurors learned last week that video footage from Sollohub’s and another officer’s police cruiser and body camera could not be found by police or crime lab employees.

“Is that an accident? Or is that deliberate? Ask yourselves that,” Robbins said.

The defense attorney said that hiding evidence calls into question the entire investigation and the credibility of the state’s eyewitnesses.

“They’ve asked you to convict him of capital murder, but they knowingly destroyed evidence,” Robbins said

Assistant DA Lynn Hammond said it’s easy to blame someone else.

“When the evidence is not in your favor you blame others. Joshua blames Justin. The defense blames law enforcement,” Hammond said.

Hammond asked the jurors to find Russell guilty of capital murder after stating that Sollohub “died with honor” and finding Russell guilty of anything less would be a reward for what he’s done.

Jurors will hear testimony for the sentencing phase of the case when court resumes Tuesday at 9 a.m. in Lee County.

Staff Writer Rachael Brown: 256-235-3562. On Twitter @RBrown_Star.

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