Jury recommends life in prison for killer of Anniston policeman - ABC 33/40 - Birmingham News, Weather, Sports

Jury recommends life in prison for killer of Anniston police officer

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OPELIKA - AL -

A Lee County jury recommended life in prison for the man they convicted of capital murder.

Eight of the 12 jurors voted for Joshua Russell to receive life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.  Four voted for the death penalty, but 10 are needed to issue that recommendation.

Russell shot Anniston police officer Justin Sollohub in the head from point blank range in August 2011 after running from the officer.  The jury deliberated for about four hours Monday before reaching the unanimous decision to find him guilty.

After a day of hearing testimony from both Sollohub's family and Russell's relatives as to whether his life should be saved or not, the jurors spent another five hours considering their recommendation of punishment.

A judge will issue the official sentence in about 60 days.

Sollohub's mother, Jeniffer Morris, asked the jury Tuesday to recommend the death penalty.  She said she was pleased with the guilty verdict.

"We had faith that justice would be served and we're in that direction," Morris said Monday.

"It's been a tough day.  It's been a real tough day but we had faith in the jury. The state did a fantastic job and I don't see where there's anything else they could have said or done for us. For Justin."

Defense attorney John Robbins claimed Russell did not intend to kill Sollohub and asked the jury to convict his client of reckless manslaughter instead of capital murder.

"Are we surprised? Probably not. It's an uphill battle when you kill a police officer," Robbins said.

"We thought the evidence really went to reckless conduct but we have to respect the jury verdict and go forward from here and hopefully we can make some headway with the sentencing phase tomorrow."

The defense had two witnesses prepared to testify Monday morning at the Lee County Justice Center, but Calhoun County district attorney Brian McVeigh objected to some of their planned testimony due to lack of certain documentation. Robbins relented and the sides proceeded to closing arguments without any defense witnesses providing testimony.

Robbins said he will have six to eight witnesses to testify on Russell's behalf during the sentencing portion of the trial, where prosecutors plan to request the death penalty.

Russell has a prior criminal record. He was sentenced in 2009 to five years in prison for four convictions for drug distribution and obstruction of justice. He received an early release after serving a little more than a year of his sentence.

Sollohub stopped Russell August 24, 2011 for an outstanding warrant and was patting him down. Russell ran away and chased the pursuing officer with a handgun stolen two weeks earlier.

"We're going to hope that we can convince the jury not to recommend the death sentence and we'll go from there," Robbins said.

Sollohub's mother declined to comment on sentencing at this time.

"We'll be here until it's over. We'll be here until the end," she said.

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