Vancouver teen’s killer sentence reduced nearly 2 decades later

Published: Nov. 18, 2022 at 5:28 PM PST
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VANCOUVER Wash. (KPTV) - The man convicted of killing 14-year-old Chelsea Harrison in 2005 will be able to walk free after his life sentence was reduced to 26 years on Friday morning in Clark County Court.

Supporters of Chelsea and her family rallied outside of the courthouse before the resentencing hearing and demanded the now 61-year-old Roy Russel stay behind bars for the rest of his life. But they’re not blaming the court for Russell’s new sentence, they’re blaming lawmakers in Olympia for passing a new law that forced his sentence to be reconsidered.

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Senate Bill 5164 passed last year and declassified second-degree robbery as a felony. Prosecutors counted Russell’s second-degree robbery conviction in Arizona as a strike toward Washington’s three-strike law. With that strike now removed, Russell no longer qualifies for a life sentence. As a result, his maximum sentence is now 26 years.

Jim Senescu, the Chelsea’s family attorney and former prosecutor on the case, addressed the court about Russell getting a chance to walk free.

“This literally disgusts Chelsea’s family and has them angry,” Senescu said. “I along with many others in the courtroom and in the community, am angry on their behalf.”

Chelsea’s family couldn’t make it to court Friday, but her grandmother, Sylvia Johnson, addressed the court over the phone.

“I don’t believe that he has the right to be out walking the streets,” Johnson said.

Judge David Gregerson also addressed the court about the frustration surrounding Senate Bill 5164.

“Today’s sentencing of this defendant is an unavoidable legal consequence of the policy decision embodied in Senate bill 5164,” Judge Gregerson said. “Intended or unattended it makes little difference to the bitter taste in the mouths of Chelsea Harrison’s family and many in this community and state who may feel let down by our institutions.”

Chelsea Harrison was just a teenager when she was strangled to death in the Vancouver home of Russell. Russell was found guilty of her murder in 2006 and sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Jeremy Baker lived just two blocks from Russel’s home. He still lives in the same neighborhood today.

“One will never forget that crime scene tape,” Baker said. “Every time I go by that house, I think about that little girl and the condition she was found in. It breaks your heart.”

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Russell was sentenced to the maximum 316 months behind bars Friday morning, but he could walk free as soon as five years from now if he continues to have good behavior in prison.

But Senescu said he shouldn’t even have the chance to live in the community again. He has this message for Washington State law makers.

“Do your homework,” Senescu said. “Think about the impact of the bills you’re passing and know what the results and the consequences are going to be.”