Russell trial witnesses describe defendant’s drinking problem, 37 guns in home

By KATIE HURST/ Staff Writer

COLUMBIANA — The lead investigator in the death of an 11-year-old Inverness girl took the stand Nov. 15 in the capital murder trial of Ryan Russell.

Russell, 37, was the legal guardian of Katherine Helen Gillespie at the time of her death.

Russell

Russell is accused of killing Gillespie on June 16, 2008 at his home in Inverness by shooting her in the back of the head before stuffing her body in a trash can found in the backseat of an SUV in his garage.

Investigator Shelby O’Connor, from the Shelby County Sheriff’s office, testified Nov. 15 that officers uncovered a total of 37 guns from Russell’s home after the crime.

She said two revolvers were found in the trunk of the SUV, a .40-caliber automatic handgun was found on top of a couch in the garage, and a .40-caliber casing was found inside a washing machine in the laundry room, which appeared to be the scene of the crime.

Russell’s ex-girlfriend, Emily Webber, also testified Nov. 15 about finding Gillespie’s body in the back of the SUV.

Webber said she lived with Russell at 5048 Kerry Downs Road for a total of a year and half, including the first six months Gillespie came to reside at the home. Webber said she was not living with them at the time of the crime.

Both times Webber moved out of the residence, she said it was because of Russell’s constant drinking. Webber said there were several occasions when Russell was drinking and driving with Gillespie and other children in the car. She often found vodka bottles in the car.

“The home of an alcoholic is not a suitable environment for a family, especially a family with children in it,” she said.

Webber said she couldn’t control Russell when he was drinking. She said he often wouldn’t realize he was walking around the house without clothes on if he’d been drinking.

“All I wanted was to give Katherine the perfect little family that she deserved,” she said. “This is a child that lost her mother at an early age and had no father figure in her life. That is not what she had with Ryan in the home continuing to drink.”

“I went to Ryan’s family several times and told them ‘Ryan has a drinking problem. I need help. I need to get Katherine out of this environment,’” she added.

Webber said she went to look for Russell and Gillespie at 5048 Kerry Downs Road on June 16 on the urging of Russell’s family members who had not been able to get in touch with them.

After searching the house with no response from the residents and finding the master bedroom door locked, Webber instructed her friend to call the police.

Shelby County Sheriff’s Office deputy Jason Myrick, who testified in court Nov. 15, said after Gillespie’s body was found in the vehicle, he and other officers breached the door of the locked bedroom and adjoining bathroom.

Myrick said he found Russell laying in the fetal position on the floor of the shower in only his underwear with the water running.

“When he was laying there curled up I noticed a few things,” Myrick said. “I noticed little oblong pills laying on the floor in the shower with him.”

Myrick said Russell was breathing but was unresponsive.

Deputies testified Russell was involved in a hit-and-run accident on Inverness Parkway earlier on June 16, 2008 when he rear-ended a truck carrying three Oak Mountain High School students.

Bo Montiel, one of the students in the car, testified Nov.15 that they followed Russell back to his residence after he fled the scene of the collision.

Montiel said Russell pulled the SUV into the driveway, and would not respond when the students tried to talk to him through the driver’s window. Montiel said Gillespie got out of the car and spoke to him.

“She was crying and it was obvious she was scared,” Montiel said. “She looked at me when she got out of the car and she said, ‘Please don’t call the police on my daddy, he didn’t mean to do anything wrong. It was just an accident.’”

In the state’s opening statement, assistant district attorney Bill Bostick said the three students were the last ones to see Gillespie alive.

The trial will resume tomorrow Nov. 16 at 9 a.m.