Eight of the 12 jurors recommended a life sentence without the possibility of parole, the remainder voting for Russell to receive the death penalty. The jury deliberated for five hours before reaching its recommendation.
Russell’s fate lies in the hands of Calhoun County Circuit Judge Brian Howell, because Alabama law allows judges to override a jury’s recommendation. That means Howell could still sentence Russell to death during a November hearing.
Jeniffer Morris, Sollohub’s mother, has been in the Lee County courtroom for the entirety of the seven-day trial, which took place in Lee County to improve the chances of finding jurors without prior knowledge of the case.
Morris said after the sentence recommendation was read by Howell that she appreciates and respects the jury’s decision.
“We’ve prayed on this and that’s the decision that came back to us and I accept that,” Morris said.
Morris said she has justice for her son’s death.
“We’re fine. We’re going to go home and we’re going to live. We’re going to find our new normal and we’re going to be OK,” she said.
Morris said she couldn’t have asked for better support or for a better case to be presented by the Calhoun County District Attorney’s Office.
Prosecutors say Russell shot 27-year-old Sollohub in the head with a .22 caliber pistol after the officer pursued him on Aug. 24, 2011, near 19th Street and Moore Avenue. Russell, 26, told police he ran from Sollohub because the gun he carried was stolen and there were outstanding warrants for his arrest. He was captured after an hours-long manhunt in the neighborhood where Sollohub was found shot. Sollohub died the following day in a Birmingham hospital.
Russell’s family declined to comment on the sentence recommendation.
Howell said Russell, who was in the Lee County jail during the trial, will either be moved back to the Etowah County Jail or to the Calhoun County Jail. The defendant has been in the Etowah County Jail since his arrest in 2011.
Howell didn’t give a date for Russell’s sentencing hearing, but said it would be held around the end of November. If the DA’s office and defense attorneys agree, the judge said, the hearing will be held in Calhoun County.
Howell declined to comment regarding his stance on judicial overrides but said he would consider the jury’s recommendation before any sentence is imposed.
During closing arguments, Calhoun County DA Brian McVeigh asked the jurors to give Russell the ultimate punishment for shooting a police officer in broad daylight, in front of witnesses and with a stolen gun.
“Nobody wins in this situation. We have all lost. But we can hold him accountable at the highest level of punishment we have,” McVeigh said.
John Robbins, Russell’s court-appointed attorney, asked the jurors to consider Russell’s entire life, not just the brief portion jurors heard about during the trial.
“Look at how he was brought in this world, his two parents were drug addicts and did not want him,” Robbins said. The attorney said Russell grew up in the neighborhood where the shooting happened and lived “between a rock and a hard place.”
“You’re too black to be accepted by a white family, but in your neighborhood you’re not black enough because you have a white mother,” he said.
Robbins said these details don’t excuse Russell for killing Sollohub, but he asked the jury to consider them and recommend a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
After the jury’s recommendation, Robbins said he hopes it will withstand sentencing.
“We appreciate the jury’s verdict. I think it’s the correct one,” he said.
Staff Writer Rachael Brown: 256-235-3562. On Twitter @RBrown_Star.