The Arkansas Court of Appeals, in an opinion announced Dec. 11, affirmed the conviction of Brian Russell on three charges, including first degree murder.
The defendant had appealed the case from Judge Bynum Gibson’s Ashley County Circuit Court where a jury had convicted him of first degree murder, abuse of a corpse, and felon in possession of a firearm. He was ordered to serve a total of 70 years in prison.
According to the appeal, Russell and the victim, Shannon Ridener, 38, of
Crossett went on a blind date Jan. 13, 2018. After purchasing liquor, the two went to his home to watch a movie. Russell said that he went to sleep, was awakened by a “bang” and then discovered Ridener’s body on the floor with a gunshot wound to her head. He alleged the woman had shot herself.
However, rather than notifying authorities, Russell took the victim’s body and transported it 36 miles to a location south of Hermitage.
A Monticello police officer testified that he had been in contact with Russell later that night. The officer said that Russell told him that he had blood on his hands and clothes from a deer he had killed. An Arkansas State Policeman testified that a trash bag with a pair of women’s shoes was found in Russell’s vehicle with another officer testifying that a large stain had been found on the floor of Russell’s residence.
A month after her disappearance, officers located the victim’s body at the Beech Creek bridge on Highway 63 in Bradley County. Her purse was found 11 miles away, near Moro Bay, only three days after the disappearance.
In the appeal, Russell argued that the court had abused its discretion by not allowing the use of photographs from the victim’s purse and testimony about the victim’s life and mental state. He contended that the woman committed suicide, and the excluded evidence could have helped in establishing her mental state.
The appeals court ruled that the decision about admitting evidence was up to the circuit court, “and we will not reverse that decision without a manifest abuse of that discretion.”
In its closing statement, the court of appeals noted that even if the judges had accepted the defense arguments in the appeal, it would not have made any difference. “When the evidence of guilt is overwhelming and the error is slight, this court can declare that the error was harmless and affirm. Here, the evidence clearly established that Shannon was shot with appellant’s gun in appellant’s home. There was an attempt to clean the blood stain on the carpet. Appellant admits dumping Shannon’s body in a creek and throwing her purse off a bridge. When stopped by police, appellant told the officer that the blood on his hands and clothes was from skinning a deer. All these actions are efforts to conceal a crime and can be considered evidence of consciousness of guilt,” the opinion noted in affirming the convictions.
Russell, now 59, is serving his sentence in the Cummins unit with a projected parole qualification date in 2052. Robert E. Tellez represented Russell in the appeal. Joseph Karl Luebke, an assistant attorney general, represented the state.
Judge Waymond Brown wrote the majority opinion with agreement from
Judges C. J. Gruber and J. Klappenbach.