Capital murder trial of man accused of killing Anniston police - ABC 33/40 - Birmingham News, Weather, Sports

Capital murder trial of man accused of killing Anniston police officer

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OPELIKA - AL -

Testimony began Tuesday in the trial of a man accused of killing an Anniston police officer.

Joshua Russell is charged with the capital murder of Justin Sollohub.  The 27-year-old officer died August 25, 2011, one day after he was shot in the head.

Judge Brian Howell moved the trial from Calhoun County to Lee County due to pretrial publicity as many in the Anniston area knew a lot about the big case.  Prosecutors and defense attorneys spent Monday narrowing 111 potential jurors down to 14 people, including two jury alternates.  Attorneys presented their opening statements Tuesday at the Lee County Justice Center in Opelika.

Defense attorney John Robbins said in his opening statement that Russell did not intend to kill Sollohub, so it should not be considered murder.

"The evidence, we believe, supports a manslaughter verdict.  A reckless manslaughter verdict.  My client's conduct was not intentional.  It was reckless," Robbins said.

He told jurors prosecutors will focus on numerous events before and after the shooting, but said the crime in question happened in a short span of time and that is what matters in reaching a verdict.

"This case occurred in less than four minutes. That's what I'm trying to keep the jury focused on that, and not on this other window dressing stuff."

After questioning one of his own investigators, Calhoun County district attorney Brian McVeigh called Sollohub's mother to testify second.  Jeniffer Morris told jurors her son always wanted to work in law enforcement, and said she recently found a note he wrote in second grade about how he wanted to be a police officer when he grew up.

She testified about hearing the sirens the afternoon of the shooting, and later learning her son was the victim.  Morris said the hardest part was calling and telling her other children that Sollohub was brain dead from the gunshot to his head.  She talked about sitting with her son in the hospital as the family made the decision to take him off life support.

Prosecutors called several police officers to the stand.  Former Anniston officer William Bostick, who now works in Georgia, said he saw Sollohub patting down a suspect in a blue polo shirt and shorts, who turned out to be Joshua Russell.  Russell was wanted for unlawful distribution of a controlled substance.  Bostick said Russell ran away and Sollohub chased him.

Bostick tried to catch up to them in his patrol car.  Not long after, he saw neighbors pointing to a yard, where he saw Sollohub's body on the ground in what he described as a fetal position.  As other officers and paramedics arrived, Bostick said he got back in his car and began to search for Russell.

Bostick said he saw Russell run out of wood line a few blocks away.  When he came out of the woods, he had on a white t-shirt and had the blue polo shirt wrapped around his left hand.  Bostick said Russell ran back into the wooded area, and police set up a perimeter and later captured Russell.

Three neighbors testified about seeing Sollohub chase Russell past their homes.  Vincent Cooley said he saw the officer questioning the suspect, and said the foot chase "just started."  He said he didn't see either man again until paramedics wheeled Sollohub away on a gurney.

Defense attorney Robbins asked Cooley about serving time behind bars for a drug offense, and also focused on questions about Cooley drinking alcohol for about two hours before the chase.  Cooley said he was not drunk and could clearly see and clearly recall what happened.

Justin Beard said he was outside washing his mother's car when he saw Russell and Sollohub run past the house.  Beard testified Russell went around a building and pulled out a handgun.  He said as Sollohub rounded the corner, Russell pointed the firearm straight at the officer.  As Sollohub reached for the firearm, Russell took a side step and shot the officer once in the head, Beard said.

Beard, who was 18 the day of the shooting and is now 20 years old, is currently an inmate at the Calhoun County jail.  He faces charges for shooting at a moving vehicle in Anniston in March, and defense attorneys questioned the consistency of his statements.

Karen Mason, Beard's mother, also saw the shooting, and while on the witness stand she broke down in tears as she recounted seeing the officer fall.

Attorneys expect the trial to last through the end of the week.  If convicted, Russell could be sentenced to death.

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