Dori: New WA state law allows release of killer dubbed ‘poster boy’ for habitual crime

Jul 27, 2022, 6:29 PM
The Washington State Capitol or Legislative Building in Olympia (Flickr)...
The Washington State Capitol or Legislative Building in Olympia (Flickr)

When Roy Wayne Russell Jr. was convicted for the 2005 suffocation murder of a 14-year-old girl in Vancouver, Wash., the judge there called him “the poster boy for the Three-Strike Act.”

Listen Thursday for Dori’s interview with the attorney who successfully argued in favor of killer’s Three Strikes conviction – and his reaction to lawmakers’ soft-on-crime actions

But now, Russell, 60, appears to have beaten his sentence for life in prison without the possibility of release – for a second time. The result? He could be freed in less than four years.

This outcome “is unimaginable,” murder victim Chelsea Harrison’s grandmother, Sophie Johnson, told The Dori Monson Show Wednesday.

“I really found it hard to even believe the very idea of releasing someone who has had three strikes several times – and has been smart enough to find a little loophole that he could get out,” Johnson told Dori’s listeners.

“Anyone who can murder another person deserves to be punished more than you can believe,” Johnson said.

Even before killing Johnson’s granddaughter – a crime Russell now admits to – the multi-time felon was first sentenced under Washington state’s “Three Strikes You’re Out Act” in 1998, Dori explained. It involved Russell’s arson conviction for setting his former girlfriend’s Vancouver apartment on fire. Prosecutors tacked this case on to Russell’s 1979 robbery and 1982 kidnapping convictions in Arizona to put him behind bars here for life.

However, the Washington State Court of Appeals vacated Russell’s first “Three Strikes” sentence when the judges decided that his Arizona kidnapping felony conviction didn’t correspond to the same charge here. When the appeals court translated the charge, the kidnapping felony didn’t qualify as a strike offense – so Russell was released from prison in June 2001.

Four years later, with two of his earlier three felony convictions still eligible for “Three Strikes,” Russell hosted a party at his Vancouver home. It was there, court records show, that when other guests left, Russell made sexual advances toward Chelsea. Prosecutors claimed that when the high school freshman resisted, Russell suffocated her.

Jurors agreed. In January 2006, he was convicted of second-degree murder, second-degree felony murder, and first-degree manslaughter in the teen’s death.

Again, Russell was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of release under the “Three Strikes” act.

But in 2019, the Legislature removed second-degree robbery from the state’s list of most-serious offenses. And in 2021, lawmakers made the change retroactive. The result: Russell has avoided “Three Strikes” for the second time and is now eligible for release in about four years.

He’s not alone. According to The (Vancouver) Columbian, lawmakers’ decision means there are more than 100 others in state prisons whose “Three Strikes” sentences could be off the hook for life in prison because second-degree robbery doesn’t carry as heavy a conviction.

Meanwhile, Johnson told Dori, Chelsea’s murder “ripped through our family.” Even after 17 years and a move to California, “It’s not something you can just push aside,” she said.

Her granddaughter “was really an old soul. . . who loved horses and wanted to be a trainer someday.”

Chelsea had already earned a variety of blue and red ribbons for horse racing events, Johnson recalled to Dori, adding “She’d be 30 years old, but her dreams were cut out of what she was going to do. She was robbed of that.”

“It sounds ridiculous, but they just used to take people who did this out and shoot them. I’m not recommending that by any means. I certainly endorse rehabilitation, but there are people out there among us who cannot be rehabilitated, and Mr. Russell has proved that more than one time to the public.”

And what does Johnson think of local lawmakers who are ready to let Chelsea’s killer out of prison? Dori asked.

“I can’t imagine so-called educated humans letting him on the streets again,” Johnson said. “The citizens of the state need to really wake up and look at who they’re voting for. This is an election year and I hope and pray that the citizens of Washington will take the time to consider what they’re doing when they cast their vote. People who are put into these positions need to do what is right.”

Listen to Dori’s entire interview with teen murder victim’s grandmother about new state law that could allow twice-sentenced “Three Strikes You’re Out” killer to go free

Listen to the Dori Monson Show weekday afternoons from noon – 3 p.m. on KIRO Newsradio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

Dori Monson on KIRO Newsradio 97.3 FM
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Dori: New WA state law allows release of killer dubbed ‘poster boy’ for habitual crime