Russell, 25, is being held at Etowah County Jail on charges that he allegedly shot 27-year-old Justin Sollohub during a foot chase in August 2011. Sollohub died a short time later in a Birmingham hospital.
The psychologist, Glen King, testified for the prosecution at a status hearing in Circuit Judge Brian Howell’s courtroom Wednesday afternoon for the capital murder case against Russell. The hearing was held so Calhoun County District Attorney Brian McVeigh, Assistant DA Lynn Hammond and Russell’s court-appointed attorney, John Robbins, could address issues with the court. Russell was present throughout the hearing.
King told the court that even though Russell scored a 52 on an IQ test administered in July 2012 at the Etowah jail, subsequent tests led him to believe Russell purposefully scored lower than he is capable.
“I think the evidence is pretty clear he is malingering,” King said on the stand, meaning that Russell was intentionally feigning a disability to avoid the threat of execution. Russell had been informed in advance, as the law requires, that scoring below a 70 on the IQ test could prevent his facing the death penalty.
The question of Russell’s IQ was brought up by both the defense and prosecution. In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled defendants considered mentally disabled, having an IQ under 70, could not be executed as it violates the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
Following Russell’s score of 52 on the July test, King reviewed Russell’s school records and work history, he told the court, and concluded there was no evidence of Russell being mentally retarded.
King told the court Russell’s school records show he scored 93 on an IQ test when he was a student. While Russell was in school, King testified, he earned passing grades in biology, geometry and English, which King said would be unlikely with a low IQ.
After determining Russell was malingering, King ran a test specifically designed to detect the deception, he said. King told the court he showed Russell photos of common household items for three seconds each, and afterward showed him other photos, asking if he’s seen them before. King said someone with a brain injury or mental retardation generally scores between 45 and 50 on the test. During his evaluation, Russell scored 19 twice and 20 once after the test was administered three times. King said those scores are below what a person would obtain by guessing or not understanding the test.
“He had to know the right answer to get the wrong answer,” King said.
King said that in his opinion, Russell was not mentally retarded, the court’s term. He also noted that he believes Russell is mentally competent to stand trial and suffered from no mental disease or defect during the time of the offense.
Robbins, Russell’s attorney, asked Howell to consider sending Russell to Taylor Hardin Secure Medical Facility in Tuscaloosa for further evaluation. Taylor Hardin is a facility where mentally ill criminals and those accused of crimes can be committed for treatment. Robbins requested that a 30-day inpatient evaluation of Russell’s IQ be completed before trial begins.
The judge said he will consider the request made by Robbins and check with the facility to see if the evaluation would be advantageous for this case. Howell scheduled another status hearing for Feb. 22, where he said change of venue and further IQ evaluation will be discussed. Howell said the trial could potentially begin in September.
In a previous hearing, Howell approved funds for a survey to be conducted to determine whether Russell could get a fair and impartial trial in Calhoun County based on pre-trial coverage and discussion. Robbins told the court the survey research has been completed. However, a report has not been made available yet. Robbins said the report should be available by the end of January.
Staff Writer Rachael Griffin: 256-235-3562. On Twitter @RGriffin_Star.