COLFAX — The vehicular homicide trial of former fugitive Frederick Russell will be held in Western Washington’s Cowlitz County starting on Oct. 15, a Whitman County judge ruled Tuesday.
Superior Court Judge David Frazier granted a change of venue request by the prosecutors, who agreed with defense lawyers that Russell could not receive a fair trial in Whitman County in southeastern Washington.
Russell, 29, is charged with three counts of vehicular homicide and three counts of vehicular assault stemming from a 2001 crash on the Pullman-Moscow Highway that left three Washington State University students dead and three injured.
Weeks before his trial was supposed to start in 2001, Russell fled the country and was later placed on the U.S. Marshals Most Wanted List. Police tracked him down in Ireland in 2005, and he was extradited to the United States.
Extensive pretrial publicity has tainted the jury pool in Whitman County, preventing Russell from getting a fair trial in Colfax, Frazier decided. He also pushed the trial date back one week.
Frazier said he will decide by Friday if the charges against Russell will be dismissed because the state toxicology lab lost the blood samples showing he was drunk at the time of the accident.
At a hearing that began Thursday, lawyers for Russell argued that since the blood samples were accidentally destroyed at the state lab in Seattle, they cannot be independently verified so the charges should be thrown out.
But prosecutors argued that dismissing the case would in effect reward Russell for skipping the country, since the samples were destroyed in 2004, years after he fled.
Prosecutors contend the blood test results should be admitted into evidence because the test was corroborated by a hospital blood test that showed his blood-alcohol content was 0.12, well above the legal limit of 0.08.