Jury returns verdict of guilty in Russell murder trial

Published 11:44 am Friday, November 19, 2010

By KATIE HURST / Staff Writer

COLUMBIANA — After less than an hour of deliberation, the jury in the Ryan Russell capital murder trial returned a verdict of guilty.

Russell, 37, was found guilty of killing 11-year-old Katherine Helen Gillespie June 16, 2008.

Several of Russell’s family members were present during the reading of the verdict as well as Russell’s ex-girlfriend Emily Webber who testified for the prosecution.

Russell’s cousin Tommy Russell said he was satisfied with the verdict.

“I think he got what he deserved,” he said. “ It’s just gruesome.”

Tommy said he was unsure how to feel since he was related to both Russell and Gillespie. He said the two of them had been attending family gatherings together for the past few years before Gillespie’s death.

“She was a real nice girl,” Tommy said. “It’s so weird because Ryan was always the good one.”

Tommy said he never imagined Russell would commit a crime like this. He said Russell has not spoken to them family since the crime, except to tell his step father it was an accident.

In closing arguments, the state argued that Russell shot Gillespie in the head with a .40-caliber handgun while she was hiding from him in the laundry room, and then attempted to get away with the crime before he was interrupted. Assistant district attorney Bill Bostick said Russell stuffed the body in a trash can and loaded it in his SUV with plans to transport and hide the body.


A book bag was found in the trash can containing black gloves, a latex glove and two bullet shell casings in a plastic zip-top bag. Bostick argued Russell packed this bag in an attempt to recreate the crime scene somewhere else.

“If Wal-Mart had such a thing as you could buy as a crime scene staging kit, that’s what that book bag would be,” Bostick said.

Russell’s court-appointed attorney Mick Johnson said they did not dispute that Russell shot Gillespie, but that he did so intentionally.

Johnson claimed Russell was afraid of the two angry teenagers barricading his driveway outside his home.

Earlier testimonies showed Russell was involved in a hit and run accident on Inverness Parkway earlier in the evening. When Russell didn’t stop at the scene of the accident, the teenagers in the other vehicle followed him back to his home in Inverness. When Russell wouldn’t respond to them, they called the police, who also couldn’t make Russell come out of the house.

Johnson argued that Russell’s actions after the shooting were unreasonable and did not indicate a logical escape plan. Instead he acted out of fear and panic, he said.

Circuit court judge Michael Joiner charged the jury with delivering a verdict of guilt of capital murder or a lesser offense of manslaughter, criminal negligence homicide or not guilty.