Pubdate: Sat, 15 Dec 2001
Source: Florence Times Daily (AL)
Copyright: 2001 Times Daily
Contact:   219 W. Tennessee St., Florence, AL 35630
Phone: (256)-766-3434
Author: Joseph D Bryant


29-Year-Old Was Part Of Copycat Sting In 1995

Only the buzz of florescent lights that tinted the room dusty white could 
be heard above the talk at the bench in Circuit Judge Mike Jones' 
Lauderdale County courtroom Friday morning.

A few women sat in the corner, listening as the judge and attorneys 
discussed the future of Ryan O'Neal Russell. Regardless of the judge's 
decision, it would involve years behind bars.

Russell's attorney asked one more time for leniency.

"We were hoping that you would admit only one prior offense," Florence 
attorney Tim Case said as he and Russell stood before the judge. "I ask 
that you give him the least restrictive sentencing."

The final attempt was futile, as Jones sentenced the Muscle Shoals man to 
life in state prison. He is 29 years old.

One woman in the corner quietly wiped her face as the judge continued 
reading the legal jargon included in the sentencing decree as the others 
convicted waited their turn before the judge.

Russell's prior convictions on drug-related charges made him eligible to 
receive the life sentence based on state law. In 1995, he was part of a 
large group of people arrested during the massive Operation Copycat drug 
bust in Florence.

Case said he would appeal the sentence.

"We knew that we were going to have to carry this further, and we will 
carry it further," he said.

Russell's latest conviction came last month for drug trafficking after law 
enforcement officers found $30,000 worth of cocaine hidden in PVC pipe near 
Lauderdale 180.

Authorities said officers followed Russell and two others Dec. 11 to an 
area where they attempted to recover the drugs. The men tried to leave, 
nearly hitting a police officer before the car stalled. Russell and another 
man were captured; the third fled.

This was Russell's third drug-related conviction. The first was in 1994, 
and he was convicted again a year later.

"Once you get into that situation, there's very little leeway. It's either 
life or 99 years in prison," Chief Assistant District Attorney Doug Evans 
said. "There's not much choice for the judge."

During the sentencing hearing, Case asked the judge to count only one of 
Russell's previous convictions, citing problems with admitting the other as 
a guideline for sentencing.

The judge denied his request. Case, who has 30 days to appeal the ruling, 
said he will base his appeal on the admission of the two convictions rather 
than one.

Russell will remain in jail during the appeals process.
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