Monday, February 06, 2023

Russell pleads guilty in murder case

Staff Writer | November 22, 2022 1:00 AM

SANDPOINT — A Bonner County man has pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in connection with the slaying of David Milton Flaget, 70, in September 2021.

James David Russell, 40, entered the plea in exchange to the prosecution dropping a first-degree murder charge. Russell also was charged with cannibalism, but saw that charge dropped in June and the murder charge was dropped to second degree on Nov. 15.

During a plea hearing Monday, when asked if he had been promised anything other than the murder charge being reduced in exchange for pleading guilty, Russell said he had been told by his attorney that he could possibly receive five years in prison and five years probation.

“I like that," Russell told the court. "I could maybe have a normal life."

Judge Barbara Buchanan asked Russell’s attorney, Sean Walsh, about the comments, who replied that was “certainly not a promise.”

Buchanan ordered a pre-sentencing investigation before the sentencing hearing, which is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Jan. 30, 2023, at the Bonner County Courthouse.

Russell was arrested Sept. 10, 2021, after deputies were called to the Russell family property on Lower Mosquito Creek Road for a possible murder.

There, deputies found Flaget, groundskeeper for the property, unresponsive in the passenger seat of his truck. Seeing the deputies, Russell initially ran away and barricaded 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.”

“Flaget had several conflict-like run-ins with Russell and told the family about them,” Bonner County Detective Phillip Stella said in December 2021. “The family had enough warning signs that Mr. Russell was a danger to himself or others."

He was found unfit to stand trial and was involuntarily committed to the Idaho Security Medical Program for treatment. The Idaho Security Medical Program is a subset of the Idaho Department of Corrections. While committed, detainees undergo intensive psychological and psychiatric treatment. After treatment, Russell was found fit for trial, setting the court process in motion.

The court would find probable cause that Russell likely committed “mayhem” to Flaget’s body by “depriving him of a member of his body, or disfiguring or rendering parts of his body useless." However, the court did not find sufficient evidence to sustain a cannibalism charge.

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