State calls Gillespie’s camp counselor to testify in sentencing

By SAMANTHA HURST

Ellen Moman, Katherine Gillespie’s camp counselor at the Hargis Retreat in Chelsea, took the stand Nov. 22 in testimony for the state’s sentencing case against Ryan Gerald Russell.
Nov. 19, a jury convicted Russell of killing his 11–year–old cousin Katherine Helen Gillespie on June 16, 2008.
The week of Gillespie’s murder, the then Oak Mountain Intermediate School student had attended summer camp at Hargis. Moman was out sick that Monday and said Gillespie had asked another counselor to call Moman.
Gillespie wanted her to know she missed her and wanted her to get better soon, Moman said crying.
“She always made you feel like you were the most important person in the world to her,” Moman said. “She was a caregiver at heart.”
Moman talked of how Gillespie’s death affected her as well as other counselors and campers. She said they sat down with the older students the Thursday following Gillespie’s death to help them talk through their feelings.
Eventually counselors created a memorial for Gillespie by placing a park bench overlooking the playground at Hargis. Moman said they planted brightly colored flowers around the bench and included a plaque with a special inscription.
“The plaque reads, ‘Tiny angel rest your wings. Sit with me a while,’” Moman said.
Moman’s tears flowed harder still as she displayed a photo of her and Gillespie from camp and talked of a Bible passage they had read together the week before.
“She asked me what my favorite Bible verse was and I turned to Revelations 21 – it’s an entire passage on heaven and it talks of the gates being made of one gigantic pearl,” Moman said. “She (Katherine) looked at me and said, ‘My mom’s there. I’m going to go and see my mom there one day.’ And she just had this sparkle in her eye when she said it.”
Moman said the tragedy has caused her emotional turmoil over the past two years, causing her even to drop out of college.
Prior to Moman’s testimony, Assistant District Attorney Roger Hepburn reminded jurors of what the state considers a murder involving cruel and aggravating circumstances.
“Ryan Russell is guilty of murder. He killed Katherine Gillespie; execution style,” Hepburn told the jury.
Hepburn also asked they consider the fears he felt most certainly ran through Gillespie’s head before she was murdered.
He reminded jurors of the 12–inch space investigators suspect she crawled into in the laundry room to hide from Russell. He also asked them to consider her feelings of abandonment.
“He was the one person entrusted to take care of her and he was coming at her with a gun,” Hepburn said. “The last sensation she felt in her young life was the muzzle of a gun pressing against the back of her head.”
The sentencing phase of Russell’s trial will resume at 1:30 p.m., at which time the defense plans to call a psychiatrist before the jury adjourns to debate sentencing.
In order to hand down the death penalty, all jurors must first agree that the murder involved an aggravating circumstance. If all 12 do not agree on this point the deliberation will be over, eliminating the death penalty as an available sentence. If all 12 do agree, at least 10 jurors must then select the death penalty as the necessary punishment. If less than 10 do so, but seven select the death penalty as the punishment, then the sentencing will be dropped to life without parole.