Anniston officer's killer gets death penalty - ABC 33/40 - Birmingham News, Weather, Sports

Anniston officer's killer gets death penalty

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The man who murdered an Anniston police officer will receive the death penalty.

Joshua Russell shot 27-year-old officer Justin Sollohub in the head from close range in August 2011.

A Lee County jury convicted Russell of capital murder in September. The jurors voted 8-4 to recommend life in prison without parole.

Calhoun County circuit judge Brian Howell disagreed with the jury's recommendation following a hearing Monday morning.  Sollohub's mother, Jeniffer Morris, said the death sentence was exactly what she and her family wanted.

"I believed that was what we would get.  I had hoped that's what we would get," she said.

"But we were prepared to accept whatever the judge did decide."

Dozens of members of law enforcement attended Monday's hearing.  Alabama attorney general Luther Strange was also in the courtroom, interested to learn Judge Howell's decision.

"I believe that Judge Howell...he did the only just thing that he could," Anniston police chief Shane Denham said.

"There are no winners in this.  Everybody in this community is a loser.  It's sad.  I wish it never would have happened.  However I hope that this can bring some kind of closure and peace to the Sollohub family," he said.

Morris testified at the hearing. She said she never imagined a life without her son.  

"August 24, 2011 was a normal day until my son was intentionally shot and killed by a known menace to society, a coward, and a savage," Morris said.

"Leaving the hospital and knowing I would never see my baby again was a terrible feeling."

She talked about having to go to her son's house to clean it after his death. Her victim impact statement included a detailed description of throwing away a toothbrush, tossing out leftovers from dinner the night before, and emptying clean clothes from the dryer.

"It was so painful because it made his death so real," she said. "None of us deserved what Joshua Russell did to us."

Morris talked about how much she struggled while attending the murder trial. She described the anger she felt at the sight of Russell smiling at his family. She said she only got to see her son in autopsy photos.

"This coward took away my son. He should have taken his own life, instead of someone else who had so much to live for," Morris said.

"My son did not die in vain. He died a hero. Through organ donation he continues his mission to help others."

She said life in prison was not a just punishment.

"If what he did does not deserve the death penalty, then tell me what else he could have done, than executing my son in cold blood," Morris said.

Other witnesses included an officer from the parole and pardons board who questioned Russell after his conviction, and Etowah County corrections officers who supervised Russell in jail as he awaited trial.

The parole officer said Russell told him in October that he wanted to apologize for what happened. Russell said it wasn't supposed to happen, and he was sorry. The officer said Russell told him he prays for Sollohub's mother.

That was a change from one year earlier, according to Etowah County deputy William Gill. Gill supervises high risk inmates at the county jail.

Russell was in a high-security cell at the jail in Summer of 2012. Gill said Russell was under additional supervision because of behavior problems, including a common practice of throwing feces at other inmates.

In August 2012, Gill said Russell asked the corrections officers how long they would keep up the detail. He said Russell began to talk about Sollohub, and admitted he shot the officer and had no remorse.

Gill and another corrections officer testified Russell referred to Sollohub as "a dirty cop." Russell said "He shouldn't have been chasing me and he got what he deserved."

Some of Sollohub's other friends and loved ones also made victim impact statements about their loss. One of those witnesses was Valerie Goudie.

She testified about first meeting Sollohub when he was 12, and the friendship she developed with his mother. Goudie then turned and addressed Russell:

"I don't know why you did what you did. I hope you will come to the realization that you took away a life.  You took somebody who meant a lot to a community, a mother, a family, a brother. You took that away. Why?  I just don't understand how you can do that. It's unfathomable. It's beyond belief."

The defense called a Birmingham neurologist, Henry Randall Griffith, to testify about Russell's mental state.

Dr. Griffith said he met with Russell at the Etowah County jail in May and August 2013, before the trial. He diagnosed Russell with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Griffith said people with ADHD are prone to impulsive decision making, and generally do not consider the consequences of their actions.

Griffith said Russell talked about struggles with incarceration and the emotional and mental aftermath of the shooting. Russell told Griffith that Sollohub has spoken to him and given forgiveness. Russell claims he feels Sollohub is now his guardian angel.

Morris said that statement is offensive. She looks forward to being done with Russell for good, but knows she will likely see him again at an appeal hearing.

"I think even though we got closure today, I don't believe it be completely over.  I believe we have a long road ahead of us, but this part's over and we're glad for the decision today," she said.

"Today was a very big obstacle that I was ready to get over.  I feel like now, we get a break for a while."

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