Russell, 26, was convicted by a jury Monday of capital murder in the 2011 killing of Anniston police officer Justin Sollohub. Prosecutors say Russell shot 27-year-old Sollohub in the head with a .22 caliber pistol after the officer pursued him on Aug. 24, 2011 near 19th Street and Moore Avenue. Russell told police he ran from Sollohub because the gun he carried was stolen and there were outstanding warrants for his arrest. He was captured after an hours-long manhunt in the neighborhood where Sollohub was found shot. Sollohub died the following day in a Birmingham hospital.
Russell’s trial was moved to Lee County so attorneys could find a jury with no prior knowledge of the case.
Russell was raised by his aunts and grandmother in a home in Anniston, his father’s sister Lorna Clark told jurors Tuesday.
Clark said Russell’s mother and father both suffered from drug addictions. Russell’s mother, who is white, was not involved in her son’s life. The 26-year-old’s grandparents would not welcome him into their home because of his race, she told jurors.
“They shunned him because he was black,” Clark said.
Russell never had a male role model, Clark testified.
“I guess that’s one thing we couldn’t teach him. He grew up in a house of females. He had nobody to teach him to be a man. We did the best we could,” Clark said.
She described her nephew as “impulsive” and said he regularly smoked marijuana.
“He has problems thinking. He does things before he can process it in his head,” Clark said.
Clark also told the jurors that Russell was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder as a child.
During her testimony, Russell’s aunt began to sob uncontrollably and choked out “I’m sorry, Joshua.”
Clark asked the jury to consider life in prison without the possibility of parole so that Russell could still be a father to his 5-year-old daughter. When Clark spoke about Russell’s daughter, he reached for several tissues and wiped his eyes.
“He’s not a cold-blooded murderer. He’s a good person. He deserves another chance,” Clark told the jurors.
Asking for death
Russell’s actions in 2011 took away the dreams Jeniffer Morris had for her son’s future, she told jurors.
Morris testified that Sollohub would never have a wedding, never have children and she would never get to talk to him again.
“He’s gone,” she said.
The mother told the jurors about Sollohub’s relationship with his younger brother.
“There weren’t many baseball games where Justin wasn’t standing right behind him. When he was up to bat Justin would stand behind him and yell ‘C’mon little brother,’” Morris said.
Morris’ voice wavered when she told the jury she had to tell her 11-year-old son that his big brother was gone.
She looked at the jurors as she asked them to give Russell the death penalty.
“Justin died and we didn’t get to tell him bye. I didn’t get to look at him and say ‘I love you,’ and he didn’t get to say that back,” Morris said.
Calhoun County District Attorney Brian McVeigh submitted evidence of four felony convictions Russell had prior to the shooting. One conviction was for obstructing justice, two for possession of a controlled substance and another for distribution of a controlled substance.
Joy Feazell, chief clerk of the Anniston Municipal Court, testified that Russell was on probation for a third-degree theft of property charge at the time of the shooting.
Two clinical psychologists testified that Russell was competent to stand trial and had an IQ score high enough to be given the death penalty.
Henry Griffith, one of the clinical psychologists to testify Tuesday, said he agreed with Russell’s childhood diagnosis of ADHD. Griffith told jurors that symptoms of ADHD include inattentiveness, hyperactivity and impulsiveness.
McVeigh asked Griffith if ADHD “makes you kill people?” To which Griffith replied “No.”
Jurors will listen to the attorneys’ closing arguments Wednesday at 9 a.m. and then deliberate on Russell’s punishment. He faces the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Staff Writer Rachael Brown: 256-235-3562. On Twitter @RBrown_Star.