Sollohub, an Anniston police officer who died after being shot during a foot chase in August 2011, had known he wanted to be in law enforcement since he was a second-grader, his mother testified.
The witnesses testified in the first day of the trial of 26-year-old Joshua Eugene Russell, charged with capital murder in Sollohub’s death. Around 11 a.m. on Aug. 24, 2011, Sollohub was shot while chasing Russell near 19th Street and Moore Avenue in Anniston, according to prosecutors. Russell was arrested after an hours-long manhunt in the Anniston neighborhood where Sollohub was found shot in the head.
Russell’s attorneys told jurors in their opening argument that their client did shoot Sollohub, but that the circumstances do not warrant the charge of capital murder.
Jurors heard testimony from Justin Hartley, an Anniston police officer who was one of the first to arrive after Sollohub was shot. Hartley said he heard Sollohub on the radio say he was in a foot chase with a man at 19th Street and Moore Avenue. After the radio call, Hartley and Investigator Kyle Price drove to Sollohub’s location.
“We saw Officer Sollohub down. He was lying motionless,” Hartley testified. “We just started yelling his name out several times and didn’t get a response.”
Hartley said he discovered a woman nearby, Karen Mason, who saw the shooting and attempted to calm her down to learn what she’d witnessed.
Hartley described Mason as distraught and panicking.
Mason told jurors she was at her mother’s house on Walnut Avenue washing a car when she saw Sollohub chasing Russell. The woman said she heard a gunshot before she saw the gun in Russell’s hand, then Sollohub fell to the ground.
The witness sobbed uncontrollably when Assistant District Attorney Lynn Hammond asked her about what she saw.
Mason said she’d thought about the shooting every day and it never left her.
John Robbins, Russell’s court-appointed attorney, questioned Mason on her previous testimony during an October 2011 preliminary hearing in Calhoun County. During that hearing, Mason testified that she heard two gunshots, but Tuesday told jurors she’d only heard one.
According to testimony from Justin Beard, Mason’s son, Sollohub saw Russell with the gun, tried to reach out and grab the man, but Russell sidestepped and shot the officer in the head. Beard said Sollohub only had time to say a curse word before he was shot.
‘He lived life so big’
Jurors also heard testimony from Sollohub’s mother, Jeniffer Morris.
Sollohub grew up in Calhoun County and attended school in Jacksonville, she said. She recently discovered a letter he’d written in second grade noting that he wanted to be a police officer when he grew up.
Morris said Sollohub was her first child and called himself her “baby boy.”
“He was so full of life. He lived life so big,” Morris said of her 27-year-old son.
Morris said by the time she saw her son at Regional Medical Center after the shooting, “he was already gone.”
Doctors and paramedics testified that Sollohub was taken to RMC and then airlifted to UAB Hospital in Birmingham.
Dr. Sherry Melton, a surgeon at UAB, said several tests revealed the officer “had a non-survivable gunshot wound to the head” and that he was “brain dead” upon arrival.
Shortly after, Sollohub’s organs were removed for donation and his body was taken to the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences in Huntsville, Calhoun County Coroner Pat Brown told the jury.
Calhoun County District Attorney Brian McVeigh told jurors during opening arguments that what Russell did changed people’s lives forever. McVeigh said evidence would show how Russell obtained the firearm, what he was doing before that day and what he did afterward.
“At the end of all that, I’m going to ask you to hold that man responsible for taking the life of a police officer who was just doing his job,” McVeigh said.
Russell’s attorney countered by saying Russell did kill Sollohub, but that he did it recklessly and without intent. The evidence, Robbins said, cannot support capital murder.
Testimony will continue in Lee County at 8:30 a.m. today.
Staff Writer Rachael Brown: 256-235-3562. On Twitter @RBrown_Star.
Editor's note: This article has been modified to correct the name of the investigator who responded with Anniston police officer Justin Hartley to officer Justin Sollohub's radio call. The investigator is Kyle Price.