Vancouver resident Jeremy Baker, a candidate for state representative in the 49th District, organized a gathering Wednesday morning near the Clark County Courthouse
For Clark County Today
Chelsea Harrison, 14 years old at the time, was strangled to death by Roy Wayne Russell Jr. in 2005 after he hosted an underage drug and alcohol party at his Vancouver home. For his crimes, combined with two previous violent felonies, Russell was sentenced to life in prison.
Next month, Russell will be re-sentenced to satisfy the requirements of a retroactively applied and newly enacted state law, which could see Russell walk out of prison long before his original life sentence.
“Chelsea’s grandmother and mother are literally beside themselves,” said family attorney Jim Senescu during what was deemed a “Justice for Chelsea” rally outside the Clark County courthouse Wednesday morning.
“Seventeen years ago,” he continued, “next week, ironically, blocks away from here, Roy Russell … hosted parties at his house for kids aged 12-17. One of those kids was Chelsea Harrison. Later in the night, he took her life, with what we argued was sexual motivation. He strangled her. He killed her. And he left her naked upside down in his shower and flooded his basement. I happened to be the prosecutor in that case 17 years ago, and I will never, ever forget the horror of what that family had to go through.”
The new law, which took effect in 2021, changed the state’s previous three strikes law (which mandates a life-in-prison sentence after a person commits three violent crimes) in that a robbery committed outside of Washington is no longer counted as a strike. For Russell, that means he will beat his previously ordered life sentence due to one of those strikes, a 1979 robbery, being committed in Arizona.
What’s more, this is the second time that Russell has been ordered to serve a life term in prison, and the second time that the ruling will be reversed due to statute technicalities. Aside from the 1979 robbery, Russell was also convicted of a 1982 kidnapping in Arizona. In 1997, after Russell confronted his ex-girlfriend at a Vancouver bar and was ejected from the establishment by bouncers, he proceeded to go to her apartment and set her couch on fire. Her apartment was destroyed and there was over $50,000 worth of damage as a result. He was handed a life sentence without the possibility of parole, as the 1993 three-strikes law had already been in effect.
But then, in 2001, Washington State’s Court of Appeals reversed the decision, saying that the Arizona and Washington kidnapping levels were not equivalent as the judge had ruled (the class 4 felony in Arizona had been ruled by the judge during the original trial as the same as second-degree kidnapping in Washington). The class 4 Arizona felony was actually the same as Washington’s unlawful imprisonment, not kidnapping in the second degree, the Appeals Court ruled.
Five months later, Russell murdered Chelsea Harrison. Chelsea would have been 31 years old this year.
“In my opinion, this is one of the worst laws I’ve ever seen in my 26 years of practicing law,” Senescu said. “On behalf of the family, we want the public to know what our lawmakers are doing.”
Jeremy Baker, candidate for 49th Legislative District Position 1 Representative, hosted the Justice for Chelsea rally Wednesday, which saw dozens of attendees. He said he invited lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle, and that he was disappointed that only Republican candidates showed up.
“This is not political,” Baker said, noting that his opponent, incumbent Monica Stonier, signed off on the law and has refused to address the fact that it’s responsible for a convicted child murderer being free potentially decades before the end of his life. Baker said that Stonier has defended her position on the law, saying that they consulted with legal experts before the law passed and claimed that Russell’s release was an “unintended consequence.”
“Criminals are being put first,” Baker said. “We deserve better. We deserve a representative that can anticipate the effects of the legislation passed … and be accountable when unintended consequences are realized.”
Also in attendance was Third Congressional District Candidate Joe Kent, District 5 County Council Candidate Don Benton (who was instrumental in the passing of “Chelsea’s Bill” when he served in the State Senate), 49th Legislative District Position 2 Candidate Park Llafet, Clark County Sheriff’s candidate Rey Reynolds, Reform Clark County leader Rob Anderson, Patriot’s United’s Mike Terry, and other citizens.
Benton spoke on Chelsea’s Bill, which closed the previous three-strikes loophole that allowed Russell to go free the first time. “We researched other states, and finally came up with language that would work,” he said. “If you’re convicted of a crime where the minimum sentence is 10 years or more, and it involved moral turpitude of some sort, it’s a strike in this state. And now, here we go. Seventeen years later, right here in the community where Chelsea was murdered, State Representative Monica Stonier and State Representative Sharon Wylie, voted for a law that would not only release Roy Russell from prison, but over 100 other heinous criminals in this state. They’re coming back into your communities, where they’re going to commit other crimes. There’s no question about it.”
“I wish there were Democrats out here with us today,” Kent said. “There should be Democrat leaders out here with us. Having safe communities is not a partisan issue. Same thing with securing our southern border. I don’t think that should be a partisan issue – yet here we are. There is no Democrat out here standing for law and order. As a matter of fact, we know exactly what they did just a year ago – they tied our police officers’ hands behind their backs. They spent the previous two years accusing police officers of horrific things that aren’t based in fact whatsoever … the policy of the Democrat leadership, from the federal level to the state level to the local level, is open prisons, open borders, and anarchical tyranny. When we talk about these issues, having a safe and secure border, having safe streets, this is not partisan, but right now there’s only one choice to make.”
“How in the world can we throw away the memory of beautiful Chelsea Harrison for a criminal who, by the way, is not just guilty of three serious crimes, remember. It’s four. Four serious crimes against his communities – and now we’re going to let this guy out of prison. It’s absolutely insane.”
“Clark County is not safe,” said Reynolds. “This law jeopardizes your safety, and the safety of your children. We cannot let this stand. We have to elect those people [who will] make our county safe. That’s what we need.”
Russell’s trial was delayed to Nov. 18 at 11 a.m. at the Clark County Courthouse so he may be present in person. He has served 17 years in prison, which are said to be taken into account during the resentencing.
“Chelsea needed a voice. Thank you for being her voice today,” Anderson said.
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