Dori: Killer could soon go free despite ‘3 Strikes’ sentence; prosecutor blames state Democratic lawmakers

Jul 28, 2022, 6:32 PM | Updated: Aug 9, 2022, 8:55 am
Left: Roy Russell, Right: Chelsea’s grandmother, Sylvia Johnson, at right, holding a photo of Che...
Left: Roy Russell, Right: Chelsea’s grandmother, Sylvia Johnson, at right, holding a photo of Chelsea. (Photos by The Columbian and The Associated Press)
(Photos by The Columbian and The Associated Press)

On Wednesday, The Dori Monson Show spoke with the grandmother of a teen girl who was strangled by a felon previously released from his first “Three Strikes, You’re Out” sentence by Washington State Court of Appeals.

And now, the Vancouver, Wash. attorney who prosecuted Roy Wayne Russell, Jr., for the 2005 killing, says “he’s livid” that state lawmakers have enacted a law that could free Russell – again – in four years.

“I am sickened. I am livid. And I am mad as a citizen, as well as a practitioner,” former Clark County prosecutor Jim Senescu told Dori on Thursday.

Senescu, who is now in private legal practice, described Russell’s criminal history and the murder of Chelsea Harrison, then 14. Dori’s listeners first heard of the case Wednesday when he interviewed Chelsea’s grandmother, Sylvia Johnson.

“It’s a long and sad and very horrible story,” described Senescu, who recalls the 2006 sentencing judge telling Russell that he was “the poster boy for the Three-Strike Act.”

Russell was freed from his first “Three Strikes” sentence in 2001 even after he was convicted of arson in 1998 for setting his former girlfriend’s Vancouver apartment on fire. When Clark County prosecutors tacked this case onto Russell’s 1979 robbery and 1982 kidnapping convictions in Arizona, Washington state put him behind bars for life.

The state appeals court, however, 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. That freed him in 2001.

Four years later, Senescu told Dori, Russell, then 46, was hosting parties at his Vancouver duplex for 12- to 18-year-olds. At one party, after other guests left, Russell “raped, assaulted and murdered – strangled – Chelsea in the basement of his home, dumped her naked, upside-down in the shower, flooded his basement and fled.”

Arrested two days later, Russell was convicted of three counts of homicide in 2006. 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.

How did this happen? Dori asked the former prosecutor.

“We can thank Washington state Senators (Jeannie) Darneille (Tacoma); (Mona) Das (Kent); (Patty) Kuderer (Bellevue); (Bob) Hasegawa (Seattle); (Marko) Liias (Lynnwood); (Rebecca) Saldaña (Seattle); (Jesse) Salomon (Shoreline) and (Claire) Wilson (Auburn) for sponsoring Senate 5164,” Senescu said.

The bill – now law – not only changed second-degree robbery from a serious “Three Strikes” offense going forward, “but they went one step further:” they made it retroactive.

With that, Russell is on track to complete his 16.5-year sentence, dodge the “Three Strikes Act” and be released from prison in about four years.

Changes to the criminal justice system like this are “absolutely nuts. It’s crazy and especially in the last few years, it’s gotten out of hand. The pendulum has swing way too far.”

If, in four years, Russell is freed and back on the streets, Dori asked, “do you have any doubt that he is going to commit more crimes?”

“I can’t speculate,” Senescu replied, adding that if the past is a future indicator, “I wouldn’t want him in my neighborhood.”

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

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Dori: Killer could soon go free despite ‘3 Strikes’ sentence; prosecutor blames state Democratic lawmakers