Judge: Lee County Courthouse more secure for Russell trial
by Paige Rentz
Jun 04, 2013 | 6528 views |  0 comments | 37 37 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Joshua Eugene Russell in court on Tuesday afternoon.   Photo by Bill Wilson.
Joshua Eugene Russell in court on Tuesday afternoon. Photo by Bill Wilson.
Anniston police officer Justin Sollohub
Anniston police officer Justin Sollohub
At a pre-trial hearing Tuesday for capital murder suspect Joshua Eugene Russell, Calhoun County Circuit Judge Brian Howell said the facilities of Lee County’s T.K. Davis Justice Center will be more secure for Russell's jury trial compared to what exists in Calhoun County.

Howell previously ordered the change of venue to Lee County due to the publicity surrounding the 2011 death of Anniston police Officer Justin Sollohub, whom Russell is charged with killing.

The trial is scheduled to begin the second week in September.

While the courtrooms in Opelika are smaller than those in Anniston’s Calhoun County Courthouse, the facility is securely connected to the Lee County Jail. Howell noted that prisoners are kept separate from the public and other people in the building.

Lee County Court Administrator Trisha Campbell, reached by phone Tuesday, said the courtrooms and offices are accessible from public hallways in the front of the building, while a secure corridor from the jail is linked to a secure hallway that leads to the judges’ chambers.

Retired Calhoun County Circuit Judge Malcolm Street said facilities are “way down the line” among factors judges consider when evaluating a change of venue. Comparable population balance and other demographic similarities are much more important, he said.

Still, Street said, from a security standpoint, it is better to house both the jail and courtrooms in one facility to minimize risk.

“It’s one of those things you worry about,” he said of the configuration of the Calhoun County Courthouse. “You have to deal with the situation you have, of course.”

Street noted that at one time, the county jail was in the Calhoun County Courthouse.

“We outgrew that jail, and at that point in time, the county commissioners elected to build a new jail at a different location,” he said. “That means you have to transport people from the jail for their hearings, not an ideal situation by any means.”

Howell said Tuesday that he met with court officials in Lee County, who he said have been very helpful in preparing for the venue change.

The judge said he requested a jury pool of 80 to 100 Lee County residents for defense and prosecutors to choose from as they get the trial under way.

“We’ll whittle down from there,” he told the attorneys at Tuesday’s hearing.

Campbell said jury selection will begin on the opening day of Russell’s trial, set for Sept. 9.

Howell said his office will try to squeeze in another pre-trial conference next week to address the defense’s requests to suppress parts of a radio log as well as parts of Russell’s statement to law enforcement unless attorneys for each side can come to an agreement over redacting the items before then.

Howell said after the hearing that if necessary, court proceedings will return to Calhoun County for sentencing.

Staff writer Paige Rentz: 256-235-3564. On Twitter @PRentz_Star.

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