Russell, 26, who was present during today’s hearing, is being held in the Etowah County Jail on a capital murder charge. Prosecutors say he shot 27-year-old Justin Sollohub in the head during a foot chase in August 2011. Sollohub died a short time later in a Birmingham hospital.
Calhoun County Circuit Judge Brian Howell granted a motion earlier this year to move the trial to Lee County based on previous media coverage of the case and the difficulty of finding an unbiased jury.
Howell said today that questionnaires for potential jurors would be mailed soon by the Lee County Courthouse. Jurors will answer questions about their media preferences, background knowledge of the case and thoughts on the death penalty.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys will meet with the potential jurors on Sept. 9 to choose who will decide Russell’s fate. Russell could face the death penalty if found guilty.
During today’s hearing, Howell granted a motion from Russell’s court-appointed attorney, John Robbins, to suppress an audio tape of police radio traffic after Sollohub was shot.
The judge listened to the audio recording, which included an “officer down” call, the location of the shooting and a description of Russell, who at the time had fled from police.
Lynn Hammond, Calhoun County assistant district attorney, said she wanted the recording played for the jury to establish Russell’s description and what Sollohub was doing at the time. After the shooting, police searched for hours before they discovered Russell, Hammond said.
“He didn’t walk himself down to the police station and say I’m the one who shot the police officer,” she said.
Hammond said she wanted to make the jury aware they were looking for the right suspect.
Howell said he felt Russell’s identity could be pinpointed during the trial through witness testimony.
“I think everything else can be supported by testimony rather than playing the radio traffic,” the judge said.
Howell also ordered that parts of Russell’s videotaped statement to police be cut out before it’s shown to jurors.
Prosecutors wanted jurors to watch footage of Russell pulling out a bag containing a green, leafy substance and swallowing it while he sits alone in an interview room at the Anniston Police Department, Hammond said.
Robbins argued that Russell was never charged for possessing the alleged marijuana and that police never tested the substance. The defense attorney said playing that part of the tape for the jury would only “dirty up” his client.
The judge agreed with Robbins and said that a jury or appellate court could look at that and say “he has marijuana and that’s against the law so he must be a criminal and guilty of what he’s accused of.”
Howell said no further hearings should be necessary before the trial begins next month.
Staff Writer Rachael Brown: 256-235-3562. On Twitter @RBrown_Star.