Dori: Family ‘wrecked’ after two-time ‘Three Strikes’ killer gets early release

Nov 18, 2022, 5:10 PM | Updated: Nov 20, 2022, 6:27 am
Roy Wayne Russell (Associated Press)
(Associated Press)

A convicted killer and two-time “Three Strikes, You’re Out” offender in southwest Washington is now eligible to be freed from prison in as few as five years after a Clark County court was forced by the state Legislature to re-sentence him.

Roy Wayne Russell, Jr., 62, has twice beaten a life sentence – one of them for the 2005 murder of Chelsea Harrison, 14. Russell admits he suffocated Chelsea – but after legislative Democrats and Gov. Jay Inslee changed the state’s three-strikes law in 2019, Russell’s original life sentence was vacated.

Former Clark County prosecutor Jim Senescu, who successfully tried Russell in Chelsea’s murder, told Friday’s Dori Monson Show that the lighter sentence is a “slap on the wrist” – while Chelsea’s grandmother describes their family as “mad” and “wrecked.”

Russell’s criminal history led a 2006 Clark County Superior Court judge to call him “the poster boy for the Three-Strike Act.” The former prosecutor told Dori’s listeners that 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.”

“The impact (of Russell’s new lighter sentencing) is almost worse than when she (Chelsea) was murdered,” Senescu said Friday.

The teen’s grandmother, Sylvia Johnson, told Dori that learning her granddaughter’s killer could soon go free is “the most horrible thing that anybody can endure.”

Senescu explained that with credit for 17 years he served for that crime – and with time earned for good prison behavior – Russell could be released from prison in four to five years, before he turns 70.

Despite letters she has written to lawmakers and appellate court officials, Johnson said, “I’ve heard nothing from anyone.”

The path to Friday’s resentencing is a “long and sad and very horrible story,” Senescu told Dori.

More from Dori: Teen killer to be resentenced

Russell was freed from his first “Three Strikes” sentence in 2001, even after his 1998 arson conviction 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 allowed his 2001 release.

The move freed him to return to Vancouver, where he started hosting parties for teens. 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,” according to court documents.

Again convicted, Russell was sentenced a second time 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 avoided a “Three Strikes” life sentencing a second time, opening the door to his eventual release.

Friday’s Clark County Superior Court judge told courtroom attendees that his hands were tied by the new state law, and that he did his most to maximize Russell’s sentence.

Senescu, meanwhile, blamed a cohort of Democratic state senators for sponsoring Senate Bill 5164 – now a state law that could apply to as many as 100 other offenders statewide.

“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),” Senescu said.

Johnson also criticized lawmakers for “callous” legislation. “You don’t even have the decency to talk to anybody about this. Shame on you.”

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: Family ‘wrecked’ after two-time ‘Three Strikes’ killer gets early release