James David Russell, 40, was convicted of the September 2021 murder of David M. Flaget, who worked at his family’s property in Idaho.
Russell was arrested after Bonner County Sheriff’s Office deputies responded to a call regarding a suspicious death in Clark Fork, and found pieces of the victim’s body.
When they searched the property, shocked deputies came across a microwave and a glass bowl that contained blood, as well as a bloodied duffel bag and knife, according to police.
According to a probable cause affidavit, Russell thought that he would be able to “heal himself by cutting off portions of flesh” and that these would “cure his brain.”
When deputies got to the property, they found Flaget upside down in the passenger’s seat of his truck, unresponsive.
After a brief stand-off, Russell surrendered and allowed himself to be taken into custody.
An autopsy revealed Flaget died from blunt force trauma to the head.
Russell was at first charged with first-degree murder and cannibalism.
The first-degree murder charge was downgraded to second-degree and the cannibalism charge dropped after a deal with prosecutors.
Judge Barbara Buchanan said the sentence of life without the possibility of parole was meant to protect society and Russell himself.
Russell suffers from various mental illnesses including schizophrenia and psychoses, the judge pointed out.
She explained Russel had stopped taking his medication and become increasingly violent the year before the murder.
“In this case, as Mr. Marshall said, mental illness is in a way a mitigating factor, but it is also an aggravating factor,” the judge said, according to KREM2.
“Because the court has no certainty, can conceive that society can be safe unless Mr. Russell is confined, no way that Mr. Russell can be safe.”
Russell spoke to the court during his sentencing and apologized to the victim’s family.
“I just wanted to say I am very sorry,” Russell said. “I just want you guys to know that I was a normal person once.”