TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTHI) - The Indiana Court of Appeals has overturned the plea agreement of Larry Russell, Jr.
Russell and his wife, Nikki, were each arrested for abusing and neglecting their three adopted children. At the time, it was called one of the worst cases of child abuse local police has ever seen.
We want to make clear that Larry Russell is still in prison. What happened is that Russell exercised his right to appeal his sentence. What the Court of Appeals has to say about his plea agreement is likely not what Russell, or anyone else connected to this case, could have fathomed.
In the plea agreement, Russell pleaded guilty to 10 counts of neglect and criminal confinement.
The judge handed down three separate 8-year prison sentences, one for each child victimized in this case. That’s a total of 24 years. However, the judge and prosecutor felt that Indiana law forced them to cap Russell’s sentence to ten years.
“That was the court’s belief, our belief, and the Indiana Prosecutor’s Council belief that that would apply in this case,” said Vigo County Prosecutor Terry Modesitt.
In his appeal, Larry Russell posed two main concerns. One, he questions whether a Vigo County judge sentenced him according to the terms of his plea agreement. Two, the department of correction classified him according to a 24 year sentence, not a 10 year. That puts him in a more restrictive prison setting.
So the case went before the Indiana Court of Appeals, who ruled it was a mistake to cap Russell’s sentence. The court said this was due to the nature in which Russell committed the offenses to which he pleaded guilty.
“It comes down to whether or not there was enough evidence that would constitute looking at these as separate crimes as opposed to an ongoing course of criminal conduct,” concluded Modesitt.
The court felt Russell’s actions were repeated, so the prison sentence cap in this case does not apply. This means the court of appeals says the plea agreement should be voided. Now, Larry Russell has another important legal decision to make.
Russell has 30 days to appeal this decision to the Indiana Supreme Court. The Supreme Court could either agree with Russell or the Court of Appeals. If the Court of Appeals opinion stands, it has ordered the case to go back to Vigo County court for sentencing. Russell could then still agree to plead guilty, where he faces a maximum sentence of 56 years. Or he could do nothing, and in 30 days the plea agreement is vacated. That means Russell will be facing a jury trial or another plea deal.
Meanwhile, Nikki Russell’s 10 year prison sentence is also in the appeals process. We will follow both cases and let you know how they’re resolved.