This story originally aired Dateline NBC on July 18, 2008.
YAKIMA, WASH. — It happened on a highway. A ribbon of road, up above the Snake River, which might as well have shared the name snake the way it slithered up and down, around blind curves.
They call this corner of the country the Palouse here in eastern Washington -- hollows and hills as far as the eye can see. It's fertile, warm, wheat and wine country.
And through it is this nine mile stretch of road linking two states and two college towns.
Here was the stage. And the drama that played out on it? As distressingly familiar as your local newspaper.
So who could have expected the outrageous decision, the unlikely love story, the mystery that began here and then spanned whole continents?
Where in the world would it end?
But at the beginning it was spring. 2001.
It was dark, middle of the night.
There was a knock at Cindy Fulton's door.
Cindy Fulton: I went to the door and recognized the Chaplain. And behind him recognized a local police officer.
Cindy went with the police to her ex-husband's house. Rich Morrow.
Rich Morrow: By the looks on their faces, I knew what they were there to tell me.
Three hours away, near Yakima, Washington, they went to see Karen Overacker.
Karen Overacker: I remember hearing the sheriff say I’m looking for the parents of Brandon Clements.
And soon after that, at a farm 20 miles away, the Sheriff visited Karen's ex-husband, Hank.
Hank Overacker: He couldn't look me in the eyes he says I got some really bad news to tell you. And I said, "it's Brandon." He said yeah.
Keith Morrison: Did you sleep that night?
Hank Overacker: No. I probably walked 20 miles.
Keith Morrison: This was the news: A collision. That lonesome road. A bad one.
They were all college students. They'd seen a movie, "Shrek."
They were on that 9-mile road back to campus.
And there was no warning at all.
Brandon Clements, 22, a year from his masters in chemical engineering, was killed at the wheel of this old Cadillac.
Dead in the backseat was Ryan Sorenson, 21, just graduated in criminal justice, and his girlfriend Stacy Morrow, also 21, a junior, studying to be a teacher.
All three were killed instantly.
Three other students in the same car were horribly injured.
Karen Overacker: All I could think of was, did he suffer? Y'know, did he call out for me?
Rich Morrow: You feel as though someone has not only knocked the wind out of you, but knocked a hole in your soul.
Hank Overacker: It's like you've been shot and the bullet's still in there and by the time you think it's over, you move wrong, and it let you know it's there yet.
Keith Morrison: It's almost seven years. But the way you're talking to me it could've been last week.
Hank Overacker: Yeah, well I don't know how you put it out of your mind.
Investigators thought the stories told at the scene by the survivors all made sense. An SUV, they said, had come barreling up a blind hill - in a no passing zone - at high speed. It crossed the center line, bounced off one car, then another, before smashing into the Cadillac carrying the students nearly head-on. Then it hit a fourth vehicle before bursting into flames.
The man at the wheel of the SUV, apparently flouting the laws of the road, was found sitting calmly at the scene of the crash, largely uninjured. His name was Frederick David Russell. A 22-year-old junior at Washington State University. His course of study? Oh, the irony: Criminal justice, with plans for law school.
And what made the young man's apparent disregard of the rules even more surprising was the position of Russell's father. Professor Greg Russell was an attorney and chairman of Washington State's criminal justice program.
Now Russell's son was on the wrong side of the law, accused of vehicular homicide and drunken driving.
Karen Overacker: I have never felt so much rage throughout this whole time.
Cindy Fulton: This was preventable! I didn't have to lose my daughter.
Frederick Russell pleaded not guilty and was released on $5,000 bail.
Rich Morrow: I was empty at that point. I was sitting in that courtroom hours away from having to go pick Stacy’s ashes up. Part of me wanted to just scream.
Up to now all this has been frankly, dreadfully familiar to far too many American families. But not for long. This story does not take a straight road to its conclusion. It goes around a blind corner. Because in October 2001, just two weeks before his trial for vehicular homicide was set to begin, Frederick David Russell disappeared.
Hank Overacker: It just told me that he knew he was guilty and that he didn't have the nerve or good common sense to 'fess up to what he's done and face the punishment.
Where had Russell gone? Why couldn't anyone find him?
And as the years -- yes, years -- began to pile up, one after another, the questions began to suggest answers of their own.
Had this young criminal justice student thumbed his nose at justice and escaped for good?
How could this be? A criminal justice student, the 22-year-old son of the chairman of the University's criminal justice program had chosen to be a fugitive?
He was gone into thin air.
Keith Morrison: What was your just right at that moment, your exact feeling?
Hank Overacker: My exact feeling was I own a gun. and it was getting in the pick-up with me and we were going to go find him and bring him back. I said, well he's either headed south or he's going into Canada.
Keith Morrison: Maybe south.
Days later, Russell's charge card was used here in Reno, Nevada. And a series of letters began to arrive postmarked Reno, addressed to Russell's father and newspapers in Washington state.
Russell apologized "for all the pain and suffering" he'd put his family through. He asked for forgiveness. Announced that he was going to a "state where no one could hunt" him, and hinted that he would never be seen again.
A warrant was issued, and a description: Russell was 6-foot-1, 215-pounds, green eyes, red hair. He was tattooed: a Celtic cross on his arm and a shamrock on his back.
Russell's father, the criminal law professor, vigorously denied he had anything to do with his son's disappearance. The professor offered hotel receipts to show he was far away in Portland when his son ran off. He even said his son had forged a check -- stolen money -- from him, to finance his getaway.
Then six months later, Professor Russell appeared on TV to say his son ran because he believed some one wanted to kill him.
Greg Russell: I saw the terror in his eyes a few times, phone messages, things found at the door.
Local police and the FBI put time and money into the search. Especially time. Months, a year. 2002 came and went. It became abundantly apparent that Frederick David Russell pulled off his disappearing act with consummate skill. He was, it seemed, unfindable. And that's when local authorities decided to call in a new investigator: the U.S. Marshals service.
Keith Morrison: Had you ever heard of this? A DUI case resulting in the participation of the Marshals service in a manhunt?
Mike Kline: I had never.
Mike Kline heads the Marshals' office in eastern Washington. He soaked up everything he could about the case.
Mike Kline: We heard from many, many sources that the father was suspect in the disappearance.
The Marshals, with the Professor's consent, went back over phone records.
And they noticed a call that had come, months earlier, from a confusing location: South America.
Mike Kline: That was fairly intriguing to us. But it didn't fit with Fred. Fred would stand out in South America without a doubt.
Keith Morrison: Did it seem like an effort to throw you off the trail?
Mike Kline: We didn't know what it was!
South America? Reno? Where was Frederick Russell?
The Marshals put out feelers all around the continent.
And before long, tips started coming in. But this time, from up north.
Mike Kline: We did get some calls that perhaps he was in British Columbia. We had some sightings in Alaska.
Keith Morrison: In Alaska?
Mike Kline: In Alaska. Probably the most interesting one as far as sightings go was a police artist when seeing the picture she absolutely believed that she had seen Fred.
Keith Morrison: That one would probably have a little more credibility!
Mike Kline: Sure. As it turned out, he was just a very, very close look-a-like.
Of course, every lead had to be chased down to its sources. A time consuming business. 2003 came and went.
The families of those dead kids had pretty much given up.
Keith Morrison: Did you think they'd ever find him?
Karen Overacker: I didn't. I was just trying to prepare myself for him not being found.
Then, in early 2004, a break. This woman, Bernadette Olson, a family friend, and Professor Russell's teaching assistant, pleaded guilty to lying to authorities. Admitting that she had helped Russell flee.
Keith Morrison: Why would she have done this?
Mike Kline: A friend. She indicated that she tried to talk Fred out of leaving but in the end she did take him to Canada.
Canada! Specifically, she drove him 400 miles away to Calgary and dropped him at the airport.
But where'd he go from there?
The trail was dead stone cold.
Maybe three years into a fruitless search, it was time to let it go.
But instead, Marshal Kline decided to do something very unusual: he fired off a request to the headquarters of the U.S. Marshal's Service in Washington, D.C. How about adding Russell to the U.S Marshals List of its 15 Most Wanted Fugitives?
Keith Morrison: A DUI case on the 15 most wanted list?
Mike Kline: It was a first.
Keith Morrison: Highly irregular. But the answer came back: Yes.
And then something happened which, a decade or so ago, wouldn't, couldn't have happened at all. The U.S. Marshals Service put its 15 Most Wanted list up on a website, and within just days they got a hit. Somebody had seen a man who looked an awful lot like that fellow in the picture. His name wasn't Russell. It was Carroll. David Carroll. And this David Carroll worked within a five minute walk of the Ha'Penny Bridge here in Dublin, Ireland.
Ireland! The tip seemed almost too quick, too confident.
The Marshals had already chased clues from South America to Alaska and caught only phantoms.
Had they finally, in this David Carroll person, actually found the flesh and blood fugitive Frederick David Russell? Well, maybe. And maybe not.
It was just days after Frederick Russell's name and picture were posted on the US Marshal's 15 Most Wanted list.
A tip came from Dublin, Ireland.
A man who looked just like the fellow in the picture worked right in here, said the tipster.
He called himself David Carroll. He was a security guard here on Henry Street, in this women's clothing store.
Right away the Marshals contacted the Irish National Police, known here as the Guarda.
Sergeant Tony Linehan was assigned to check out the tipster's report.
Sergeant Tony Linehan: We carried out just discrete inquiries from afar at the early stage and we were able to confirm that there was a person who looked very like the fugitive but at this stage we didn't make a direct approach.
Keith Morrison: "Discrete inquiries from afar." I like that phrase!
Sergeant Tony Linehan: That would be a police phrase that we would use.
But looking like the man and being him could be two quite separate things.
Careful not to spook him into running again, the Irish police got surveillance photos of the security guard and sent them off to the Marshals.
It looked like a hit.
Then, to be absolutely certain, the Garda launched a very careful proof-test: a female agent went to Henry Street, approached the man who called himself David Carroll, asked him for directions, and handed him a plastic CD case on which to write.
And thus she managed to obtain an excellent set of finger prints.
Sure enough, the man called David Carroll was actually Frederick David Russell.
So, did the Guarda arrest him? Well, no.
There were court orders to obtain.
Nine months inched by, and all the while the man who called himself David Carroll went about his life utterly unaware of all the official interest in him. Oblivious to the Guarda officers keeping a watchful eye on his movements.
Until, one day the papers were all signed, and...
Sergeant Tony Linehan: We just walked in and we just said want to talk to you. He said he was David Carroll. I told him I believed him to be somebody else. Then we spoke about the tattoos. I asked him to take off his t-shirt, and he just said, "yeah, OK it's me. You’ve got the right guy."
Keith Morrison: Did he say anything to you at all?
Sergeant Tony Linehan: When I was handcuffing him he said please don't treat me like a scumbag. He said I’m not a scumbag. I’m just somebody who was involved in a traffic accident.
And just like that, the fugitive Frederick David Russell's run was finished, thanks to the tipster, the U.S. Marshals. and the Irish Garda.
Rich Morrow: What a fluke! Y'know if it hadn't been for this young man in Dublin, Ireland, who had a hobby of looking at fugitive lists on the web, we probably never would have caught Frederick Russell.
Hank Overacker: I yelled and hollered and danced a couple times.
Ah, but was he truly caught?
The parents of the victims naturally assumed that justice could finally prevail, and that without delay that young man - now sitting in an Irish jail, bail denied - would be brought back home to face trial.
But almost nothing in the case of Frederick David Russell had been normal. So why should normal start now? You'd think bringing the man back to the United States to face trial would be as easy as firing off another e-mail. But then, you'd be wrong. It turns out that Irish court back there has a history of declining extradition requests from the United States.
In fact when Russell was captured, the last 18 requests for extradition of suspects to the U.S. had been rejected or dropped. No one had been extradited from Ireland to the states in six years. Why? Irish courts have taken a dim view of capital punishment, as well as what they have in the past deemed excessive punishment, and human rights violations in American prisons.
And now Russell embraced every available legal tool -including an excellent system of Irish legal aid, in an effort to prevent his own extradition.
Keith Morrison: How hard did he try not to be extradited?
Sergeant Tony Linehan: Well, he literally threw everything at it. He went the whole way to the Irish Supreme Court to prevent his extradition.
Keith Morrison: Back in America, the parents began to ask who besides Russell's father the law professor would have known about Ireland's history of declining extradition to America?
Again, Professor Greg Russell denied any involvement. And nothing ever turned up to prove otherwise.
But the victims' parents didn't buy it.
Karen Overacker: Nobody will ever, ever be able to convince me that his father didn't have something to do with him fleeing.
Keith Morrison: Couldn't it have been his own research in those issues as a student of criminal justice?
Karen Overacker: I don't know. My son was pretty intelligent. And I don't know if he would figure out that Ireland was the place to go.
Keith Morrison: However the choice of Ireland was made, it may well have put Russell out of reach of American justice.
Month by month, in court and from his Irish jail cell, the fugitive fought extradition with the help of what turned out to be a very loyal circle of friends.
Luke Alan: You would not meet a nicer person. Nicer than most of the people that live in this country.
Friends like Luke Alan.
Keith Morrison: What was it you liked about the guy?
Luke Alan: He's such a smart guy. You can tell by talking to him we didn't understand why he was only working in security, he was so smart.
David, as he was known to his Irish friends, made such an impression, said Luke, that the shock of his legal trouble did not for a moment cause them to doubt Russell's character, or his worth.
Keith Morrison: When you heard that story for the first time?
Luke Alan: He has admitted, Luke, I’ve made a mistake. People have lost their lives, but you know, all i could say to him was what can I do to help?
Keith Morrison: And there was another reason Russell fought so hard to remain in Ireland: He'd fallen in love.
Her name is Hazel. They planned to marry, and then there was this trouble.
Still, she stuck with Russell as his attorneys fought every step of the way against extradition.
And then, finally, a year after the arrest in that women's clothing shop, the court announced it had made a decision.
It was 2006 - more than 5 years after that awful crash that killed three Washington state students on this lonely stretch of rural highway-when the Irish Court made its decision.Extradition to the US - denied in 18 previous cases - was granted.
Frederick David Russell was going home to face trial.
Rich Morrow: Never thought the day would come.
In the courthouse, the victims families gathered in the gallery. Russell's father was now nowhere to be found. But his mother was here every day.
Karen Overacker: I heard her say, this is the most horrendous thing that I’ve ever been through. And I shot a look at her and I just thought y'know what's horrendous? You should've seen what your son's actions did to my son's body!
Russell's case was assigned to prosecutors Lana Weinman and Melanie Tratnik.
Melanie Tratnik: I mean these kids were so going places. That just somehow made it more tragic. And I was more afraid doing this opening than I’ve ever been.
Melanie Tratnik: Because the defendant consumed too much alcohol because his actions and his decisions that night, caused the deaths of three people we'll be asking you to return verdicts of guilty.
Keith Morrison: Here in court they wound back in time to the night it happened, June 4, 2001.
A liquor store manager testified that he saw Russell about 4 p.m.
COURT: He purchased a half a gallon of Monarch vodka.
Keith Morrison: Then, on to a party at this house, where a friend testified that six people -- including Russell -- drank all that vodka in blender drinks.
COURT/MCFARLAND: Q: Who poured alcohol into the defendant's drink?
A: He did.
Later in the evening, Russell and a friend ended up here at My Office Tavern.
COURT: Q: And what did Mr. Russell consume that night?
A: Two Guinness
By 10 p.m., said the Prosecutors, Russell had been drinking for the better part of six hours.
Then, 40 minutes later, on this rural highway, a driver named Robert Hart, going about 55, he said, headed up a blind hill and saw Russell's SUV coming up quick behind him.
Hart: I believed it to be going at least 90 miles an hour..
It happened so fast. Russell's SUV, said Hart, started a pass and that's when it happened.
Prosecution experts testified the SUV was 3-and-a-half feet over the center line when it struck three of the next four oncoming cars.
Melanie Tratnik: I saw big truck! Within two seconds, my car was hitting that truck already..
One of those cars was the Cadillac carrying Ryan, Stacy, Brandon and 3 others, was almost obliterated.
Two of the passengers were horribly injured and perhaps fortunately, remember nothing.
Ranade: I’m just assuming that it was something my brain decided to block out.
The one passenger who walked away, struggled to tell the court what he saw.
Eric Haynes: I know I could see Ryan. It was uh... you're going to have to give me a minute (long pause) so I could kind of tell at the time that he probably hadn't made it.
Ryan, Stacy and Brandon were killed instantly.
Lana Weinman: This was a high velocity collision and that car was smashed.
At the hospital, troopers asked Russell how much he'd had to drink.
COURT: He said he had one, maybe one and a half beers.
Really? Three hours after the crash, said the toxicologist, Russell still registered .12, well over the legal limit.
COURT: That's approximately six one ounce shots.
Was Frederick David Russell so unbelievable, so irresponsible? There are, after all, two sides to every story. Even one like this.
Francisco Duarte: He was not the cause of the deaths of those three young college students..
By the time they presented their case, Russell's defense team, Francisco Duarte, Diego Vargas, and Diana Lundin, had begun referring to their client by his initials, which certainly did not conjure up irresponsibility. They called him FDR.
Francisco Duarte: It’s my term of endearment for him. That’s the way I call him. And I don't feel bad about doing that.
So what happened that night? First, the defense claimed Russell had not drunk as much as prosecutors claimed he had.
COURT/BARTENDER: A: He didn't seem intoxicated when I last saw him.
This man served Russell before the accident that night. He was the bartender.
And he said he remembered why Russell did not appear to be drunk.
COURT/BARTENDER: He looked at his total and noticed that I was wrong. And I proceeded to give him the correct change so when someone catches you you feel pretty stupid.
But if Russell wasn't drunk, and didn't cause the accident, then who did? The defense trained its gun on the man you met in the prosecution's case.
Robert Hart: Robert James Hart.
...Who you'll recall was driving in front of Russell on that highway, that night.
Maybe Hart caused the accident, said the defense, by driving erratically, forcing Russell to swerve into oncoming traffic.
COURT: I don't know what you're getting at but that wasn't what happened!
The defense pointed out that Hart had at one point refused to give a statement to police, then changed it several times, and that after the accident, he stopped only briefly, then left the scene.
Diego Vargas: Why does he leave the scene instead of staying to inform the police or investigators as they arrive about what he saw and what he observed and give a statement? He leaves!
Next, the defense tried to answer: Why did their client run? Simple, they said. Not because he was guilty, but because he was absolutely terrified.
WILMS/COURT: Q: Did Fred ever tell you that he was scared for his own safety?
Russell's mother testified that serious death threats were a constant concern.
A family friend and attorney broke down as she recalled being present for threatening cards and phone messages.
COURT: I hope and I pray to god that you get (bleeping) raped in prison...
Siemont/COURT: He said I want you to be careful. I have a target on my back..
Diana Lundin: He fled for lots of reasons that have nothing to do with criminal culpability!
Russell was no criminal, said the defense. And even though his blood alcohol was still over the legal limit, according to the prosecution, three hours after the crash, where, asked the defense was the evidence?
Lankford/COURT: My job duties entail auditing the entire evidence system of the patrol around the state...
A sergeant for the Washington State Patrol told the sorry story how a scandal had enveloped the State Toxicology lab in Seattle. Storage was compromised and Russell's blood alcohol sample...
Lankford: It appeared Mr. Russell’s evidence was disposed of.
Accidentally, the state said. But still. It was gone.
How could the jury trust the prosecution's blood test results if that blood wasn't available for independent testing by the defense?
Diana Lundin: Lord knows we can't impeach it independently because they've destroyed the results!
But what's just as bad, the defense claimed, is that when the U.S. government applied to extradite Russell, it never disclosed to the Irish court that the blood samples no longer existed.
Diego Vargas: I don't believe we'd be here today if the Irish court knew that blood sample was destroyed by the toxicology manager at the time.
But there they were. And so was Frederick Russell. But he chose to exercise his right not to take the stand. Didn't say a word in court.
Keith Morrison: Can you give me your full name?
Fredrick Russell: Frederick David Russell..
But did FDR have a story to tell? Oh yes, he certainly did. And you are about to get one step ahead of the jury.
Fredrick Russell: I know what I know, and people believe what they believe about me but it doesn't have to match up with what I know for it to be the truth.
This is Frederick David Russell, FDR to his lawyers. David, to his friends and family.
And to us, a man eager to explain himself.
Keith Morrison: Did you drink at the party?
Fredrick Russell: No.
Keith Morrison: Not at all?
Fredrick Russell: Not a sip. I will take that to my grave.
Keith Morrison: If only people knew, said Russell, that he is not the bad guy people have made him out to be all these years.
For example, he said, the vodka he bought that night was a gift for someone else, wasn't for him.
Fredrick Russell: I hate vodka. If I’m going to have any drinks at all, it'd be a couple pints with a game of pool. Not a huge drinker, not as the media's made me out to be.
Keith Morrison: Well, that's a significant point because one of the accusations is that you are a big drinker. At least you were. You drank a lot. All the time. Not true?
Fredrick Russell: No, it's not true. And accusations are just that. I know that I wasn't drunk! There’s no "feeling" about it. I’m sure of it.
The tests, he said, must have been botched.
And then, when he was driving home - not drunk, he said - here's what happened.
Fredrick Russell: I’d gotten to a certain point where it’s kind of a blind corner. You’re not supposed to turn on those. Obviously it's a solid yellow line. And there was a car who had seemingly, had come from a dead stop on the side of the road, pulling back out onto the road.
Keith Morrison: In front of you?
Fredrick Russell: Correct. And so I attempted to avoid that car and I did.
But Hart's car, he said, cut him off and forced him into the other lane.
Keith Morrison: You mean he pulled right out in front of you?
Fredrick Russell: Yes sir. What I saw from that point was that another car was oncoming in this lane. I saw a headlight at that point, coming toward me. And that's where the contact occurred initially. But I had no control over the vehicle at that point.
Keith Morrison: But you saw it coming?
Fredrick Russell: Well, as much as you can see something coming like that it happens that quick.
In other words, claimed Russell, it was a dreadful, terrible accident, which wasn't his fault.
But then he found himself charged with vehicular homicide, facing a trial which could send him to prison, destroy his future, and those scary messages started arriving.
Fredrick Russell: Threats were made on my life and my mother.
Keith Morrison: What did these threats suggest would happen to you and your mother?
Fredrick Russell: That I’d be killed. And there were threats that she would be harmed as well.
So running, he said, was an act of preservation, for himself and his mother.
Keith Morrison: So you reacted as a child would react? Well, do you feel now that your decision to run was immature?
Fredrick Russell: No. I, for the reason that I did it, it still made sense to me in that mind frame.
Once he'd decided to leave, said Russell, he approached Bernadette Olson, his father's one-time teaching assistant.
Keith Morrison: What did she say to you?
Fredrick Russell: "Are you sure you really want to do that? I don't think you should do that."
Keith Morrison: Where did she take you?
Fredrick Russell: Canada.
And from Canada, Calgary, Alberta, specifically, Russell boarded a plane with a couple thousand dollars in his pocket, but not to Ireland, he says. He went to London, then Paris, then Amsterdam. Looking, he said, for a place where an English speaker could work without papers, and be paid under the table.
Keith Morrison: When you've talked about how you did a kind of a circle route and you had no intention of going to Ireland when you left in the first place.
Fredrick Russell: That's correct.
Keith Morrison: And then you get that "Oh, yeah right!" I mean, the guy's got shamrocks tattooed on him for God's sake and red hair and green eyes and an Irish complexion. You could've sprung straight from the hills of Galway for heaven's sake!
Fredrick Russell: OK, then why wouldn't I have flown straight there?
Keith Morrison: Maybe you did!
Fredrick Russell: No. Certainly not. Is that honestly what you believe?
Keith Morrison: How would I know?
Fredrick Russell: That's the second time you've asked the question..
As for that very public suspicion that Russell's father had used his considerable legal knowledge to help the boy?
Fredrick Russell: Absolutely not. His advice would've been, don't do it, had I told him. I’m sure of it.
Keith Morrison: The allegation is made, probably, because you wound up in Ireland. The one country from which it's very difficult to extradite people.
Fredrick Russell: It's coincidence!
Keith Morrison: It was just pure luck?
Fredrick Russell: I wouldn't call it luck. I’m still seated across from you.
Keith Morrison: Russell admits--he -did- call his father at least -once-..That call--apparently from South America that stumped the Marshals. Turns out it was an Internet phone call, bounced around the globe..until it reached America.
Keith Morrison: What did you say to him? And he say to you?
Fredrick Russell: That I’m sorry I left. I loved him very much and he said it might be best if I turned myself in.
Keith Morrison: How'd that feel?
Fredrick Russell: It's painful to be separated from your family.
But Russell said he soon found a new family of his own.
Fredrick Russell: Y'know, I’d call it fate. I mean, I met any amazing woman who I trust with my life there now.
Ah yes, the girl.
Hazel was an office manager from the suburbs of Dublin, with whom, Russell says, he fell in love. It was instant, he says. For both of them. Moved in. Made plans for the future.
And so, as Russell sat and listened to witnesses portray him as an irresponsible and unfeeling man, he said, he thought about Hazel, and how she was waiting.
Keith Morrison: How is it being without her?
Fredrick Russell: It's like a piece of me is missing
The jury, of course, heard none of this.
They could look at Russell in court. But they could not hear him, or judge his arguments for themselves.
Before a jury could decide Frederick David Russell's future, prosecutors got one last chance to talk about the night of June 4, 2001.
Lana Weinman: He started out with a magnum of vodka and in two hours that magnum was gone. Six people drained it three hours later, when his blood was drawn, he had still in his system the equivalent of about six one-and-a-half ounces of liquor. And he chose to get in his car and head down that highway. It should be no surprise to you that we're here today.
Keith Morrison: Was all of that true? Or were those blood alcohol tests flawed? Was Russell's flight from justice somehow understandable?
Francisco Duarte: What is a 21-year-old man who becomes public enemy number one overnight supposed to do? When he knows he's not going to get a fair trial, because out in eastern Washington he is the devil?
The jury went out and in just a bit more than a day was back.
Judge: We the jury find the defendant Frederick David Russell guilty of the crime of vehicular homicide.
Cindy Fulton: I cheered! I’m like yes! That was for Stacy.
Judge: Guilty as charged in count 3.
After the verdict, prosecutors and parents shared a sudden surge of mutual relief.
Lana Weinman: We always say we don't take them personally, and that's just the story we tell because they're very personal.
Then, six weeks later, in the very courthouse where Frederick David Russell had first failed to appear six years earlier, he entered a packed courtroom to be sentenced. But first, to listen to the parents of those who died.
Karen Overacker: Fred Russell’s time as a whimpering little boy has come to an end for a few years.
Rich Morrow: I would hope at some point Mr. Russell stops thinking about how to save his skin and start thinking about how to save his soul.
Then came the survivors, living but forever damaged.
Kara: I don't like to have pictures taken of me anymore due to my scars. I am getting married next summer and pictures are one thing that are hard. I want to have pictures to remember this great event, but because of Mr. Russell’s actions, I don't want to see myself later on this joyous day.
Wagner: Just say "I’m sorry you guys, I screwed up." Accept responsibility and just let us go on with our lives.
Then, to the startled hush of all present, Russell did. Well, sort of.
First, though, that woman he fell in love with, Hazel, called and spoke to the court from Ireland.
Hazel: I can barely get through each day, but I hold onto the thought that hopefully that one day, we can rebuild our life together.
And then Russell, holding in his hand a rosary, turned and spoke to the families of the victims, some hearing him utter more than a few words for the first time.
Fredrick Russell: Matthew, I’m sorry. You waited too long to hear that. I’m sorry for what happened to you. Mr. Morrow, all of you I’m not going to stand up here and expect forgiveness. I don't have the right to ask you for understanding. I’m grateful to be able to speak with you. I mean it, I’d gladly swap places with them, but that wouldn't change anything.
And if, to the parents of the victims, it didn't sound quite like the sort of apology that takes responsibility, well, there was a reason for that, Russell told us.
Fredrick Russell: I apologized to them for this trial not occurring several years earlier.
Keith Morrison: So that you took responsibility for?
Fredrick Russell: Well how could I not? I’d be lying to myself.
Keith Morrison: But you didn't take responsibility for the death of their children?
Fredrick Russell: I didn't cause the accident. Not the way the prosecution presented it. When I said that I wished it would have just been me that died in that accident instead, I meant it.
When the moment came for the judge to pronounce sentence, he was unmoved by Russell's statement. And unmerciful.
JUDGE: You are going to get the maximum sentence, Mr. Russell. Whether you believe it or not and you are going to get the maximum sentence because you deserve it. Just as simple as that.
The maximum sentence? A few months north of 14 years.
Lana Weinman: If you consider the three lives that were lost, and the numerous lives that were destroyed, I can tell you there's a lot of victims out there that say 14 years doesn't come close!
So here he is, settled into prison, filing appeals, hoping to be free earlier than the at least decade or so of actual time he'll likely have to do, and thinking about Ireland and that girl.
Keith Morrison: You think she'll wait for you?
Fredrick Russell: Without a doubt.
And the families of those killed? Karen Overacker speaks to students about the dangers of alcohol, how it can, in an instant, take everything.
Rich Morrow works nights on drunk driving victim impact panels.
Rich Morrow: It does make you look at those that you have in your life I refer to them as those you still get to hold in your arms rather than in your heart, and realize how important it is to express your love and care for 'em. I think a lot of people walk around with that, holding it close and keeping it quiet. So foolish.
And all these years later, as Frederick David Russell whiles away his days in prison, traffic roars unceasing round blind corners on that highway in the Palouse. It's been widened now to four lanes.
That's too late for Hank Clements, who struggles still to sort out how to live without his boy.
Hank Overacker: Its like I tell everyone now, you hug your kids like it's the last time you're going to see them every time you hug 'em at least you told your child. Because it can happen.
Frederick David Russell is appealing his case.
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