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Russell ordered held on $5M bond

Staff Writer | April 16, 2022 1:00 AM

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SANDPOINT — A Bonner County man will formally face charges of first-degree murder and cannibalism at a preliminary hearing in mid-June.

After being deemed fit for trial following six months of involuntary commitment in the Idaho Medical Security Program, James David Russell, 40, is being held on $5 million bond on the charges.

Although Russell’s defense team said they were not prepared to argue bond at Friday’s initial appearance in First District Magistrate Court, state prosecutors argued that Russell should be held with “substantial bond.”

Deputy Prosecutor Katie Sherritt argued for the $5 million amount because of the “horrific nature of the crime,” and due to Russell’s “access to the finances that would help him leave if he were wanting to.”

Russell waived his right to a timely preliminary hearing during the five-minute hearing, which is typically held within two weeks of an initial appearance. Both the prosecution and defense agreed to a two-day preliminary hearing, scheduled for June 13-14.

In a preliminary hearing, a magistrate judge is tasked with determining if there is enough evidence to pursue alleged charges against a defendant. Witnesses can be called to give testimony during this type of hearing.

Given the charges against Russell, a longer-than-usual amount of time will be spent determining whether there is enough evidence for the court to proceed.

“Given the facts alleged in the probable cause affidavit, the amended probable cause affidavit, and the significant potential penalties that Mr. Russell is facing — which is up to life in state prison — I will set bond in the amount of $5 million,” Harden said Friday.

Russell is the primary suspect in the Sept. 10 death of David Flaget, the groundskeeper of the Russell family property.

“When dealing with death and carnage it’s a shock to our conscience,” Bonner County Detective Phillip Stella said in December. “As far as I know this is the first cannibalism charge in Idaho.”

“There’s a lot of facets we will certainly never know,” Stella said. “It wasn’t the bloodiest crime scene, but it’s more of the psychological, ‘what the heck is going on here?’ and ‘why am I picking up pieces?’ It’s a walk down the dark path that we don’t see very often.”

On Sept. 10, sheriff’s deputies were notified of a possible murder on Lower Mosquito Creek Road. Upon arrival, they found Flaget upside down in the passenger’s seat of his truck, unresponsive. Russell ran away from law enforcement, barricading himself in the loft space of the garage building he resided in on the property.

After a brief stand-off, Russell was compliant with law enforcement’s commands and allowed himself to be apprehended. According to court documents, Russell was unable to understand his Miranda rights after they were repeatedly read to him. Russell made only one statement to law enforcement in which he repeated more than twice: “It’s private property and we don’t like non-family on it.”

Russell was not screened for substances after being apprehended. There is evidence that a clean-up kit was used to dispose of remains or other evidence after the murder, according to Stella.

The maximum penalty for cannibalism is 14 years incarceration. First-degree murder charges can see a maximum sentence of life in prison or the possibility of the death penalty.