OLYMPIA — The state Supreme Court today unanimously affirmed the conviction of Frederick Russell, who killed three people and nearly killed three others in a 2001 drunk-driving crash in Eastern Washington. The Attorney General’s Office prosecuted Russell and successfully defended his convictions before the Supreme Court.
“I am pleased that the Supreme Court upheld Russell’s convictions,” Attorney General Bob Ferguson said. “His victims and their families have suffered enough, and I hope that today’s decision brings them some small measure of closure. I also want to thank the dedicated, talented attorneys in my office who prosecuted Russell and successfully defended his convictions on appeal.”
Russell’s case was extraordinarily high profile, receiving international media attention. After the drunk-driving crash, Russell fled the country for several years to escape justice. He was eventually discovered in Ireland and extradited. The Attorney General’s Office successfully prosecuted Russell in 2007, and he was convicted of three counts of vehicular homicide and three counts of vehicular assault.
In his appeal, Russell argued that his right to a public trial was violated when the trial judge considered certain requests from jurors for “hardship excusals” outside of the courtroom. Hardship excusals are when jurors request to be excused from service for reasons unrelated to the specific case, e.g., because of healthcare issues, lack of childcare, military service, or educational responsibilities.
The Supreme Court rejected his argument, finding that requests for hardship excusals have not traditionally been considered in open court, and that there is no good reason why they need to be.
Russell’s initial prosecution was handled by Senior Assistant Attorney General Lana Weinmann and Assistant Attorney General Melanie Tratnik. They also handled the appeal, with the assistance of Solicitor General Noah Purcell, who argued the case, and Assistant Attorney General Peter Gonick.
The Office of the Attorney General is the chief legal office for the state of Washington with attorneys and staff in 27 divisions across the state providing legal services to roughly 200 state agencies, boards and commissions. Attorney General Bob Ferguson is working hard to protect consumers and seniors against fraud, keep our communities safe, protect our environment and stand up for our veterans. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.
Peter Lavallee, Communications Director, (360) 586-0725; PeterL@atg.wa.gov