Accused cannibal James Russell declared competent in court


James “Jimmy” David Russell appears in a mug shot taken by the Bonner County, Idaho, Sheriff’s Office.

A defendant who alleged to have murdered a 70-year-old man and then microwaved and ate part of the victim’s remains is mentally fit to stand trial, an Idaho judge said allegedly reigns.

Court records indicate so James David RussellThe 40-year-old is charged with first-degree murder and cannibalism. Both allegations are criminal offenses. The accusation of cannibalism alone is punishable with up to 14 years in prison, so a state statute. Local law enforcement said last December that they believe the cannibalism charge could be the first of its kind in Idaho since the state outlawed the practice more than three decades ago. The murder charge could carry a life sentence or the death penalty, depending on the route prosecutors take.

A Press release of September 13th from the Bonn County Sheriff’s Office says the deputies responded to a call about a “suspicious death” on Lower Mosquito Road in Clark Fork, Idaho. This location is more than eight hours north of Boise in the state’s panhandle region and just 80 miles south of the Canadian border.

When authorities arrived, they found David M. Flaget, 70, “unresponsive in a vehicle,” the press release continues. Russell, 39 at the time, was said to be living at the property, and authorities said they found “evidence that he was involved in Flaget’s death,” according to the press release.

“Subsequent investigation by detectives determined the probable cause of David Flaget’s death at the hands of James Russell,” the law enforcement cable said.

Few other factual details were given first. The press release indicated — and court records indicate — that a judge ordered a hearing on Russell’s competency.

David Flagett. (Image provided to Law&Crime by the victim's family.)

David Flagett. (Image provided to Law&Crime by the victim’s family.)

Court filings obtained by Law&Crime say the defendant indicated during a hearing on September 13, 2021 that he “doesn’t want” an attorney. A judge appointed one anyway. A document containing the record of this trial also states that the accused “denied” a competency test. The defense counsel appointed, despite the client’s objection, agreed that one was required and a judge ordered the case to proceed. Initially, the records do not reveal any bail.

The defendant was enrolled in the Idaho Security Medical Program on October 19, 2021, according to an online court filing. A state statute says that this “is a program for individuals who are showing signs of mental illness or psychosocial disorders and need diagnostic services and treatment in a maximum security environment.”

One assessment reportedly ended with a finding that criminal proceedings could continue, so a report this week from Bonn County Daily Bee. That publication states that Russell was “presumed mentally fit to stand trial” following an extensive review to determine whether the defendant was “mentally fit to participate in the trial.” A report from the Doctor of Psychology, April 5th KimberlySmith found that Russell is indeed “able to proceed,” the newspaper said while citing the First Circuit Judge’s judge Tera A. Hardens comments during a hearing on Monday.

“The Idaho Department of Justice is requesting that the defendant be returned to the Bonner County Jail prior to the status hearing and arraignment on the amended complaint,” Harden reportedly added.

At a subsequent hearing Friday, Harden reportedly set Russell’s bail at $5 million, according to the victim’s relatives.

David Flagett. (Image provided to Law&Crime by the victim's family.)

David Flagett. (Image provided to Law&Crime by the victim’s family.)

A probable cause affidavit obtained by Law&Crime says the case unfolded when Russell’s relatives – apparently an aunt and uncle – reported that Flaget was dead and that they suspected the defendant – described as her nephew – to be responsible man was.

The aunt allegedly told police she saw the defendant “running with a black duffel bag and latex gloves” around 10:30 a.m. on September 10, 2021, and also parked the victim’s truck in an odd spot. The aunt went on to say that a confrontation ensued when her brother – the uncle – needed access to an attic that had been barricaded by the defendant. The defendant was described by his aunt as “excited and aggressive,” according to the court filing.

The victim was the caretaker of the property, according to the affidavit.

At around 3:45 p.m., the aunt, by then curious as to why the victim’s truck was still parked where it would not normally be seen, approached the vehicle and found what she quickly assumed was Flaget’s body inside, which was wrapped in plastic, the court documents indicate.

The aunt then allegedly fled the scene with her mother and contacted her brother, who at the time was working in a nearby mining area. According to the affidavit, the brother – the accused’s uncle – called the authorities and provided this report when the police officers arrived:

To mark [the defendant’s uncle] said he came to the property between 11:00 and 11:30 to fix the internet. Mark explained to Jimmy [the defendant] lived in the attic where the internet hub was located. Mark said Jimmy had an irrational fear that the internet was causing problems with his mental health and would routinely unplug wires or remove internet devices, rendering them inoperable.

That day, Mark went to the attic to make the necessary repairs. When he went to the attic, the front door was barricaded with a bed. Mark said that was the first time Jimmy had barricaded the door. With Elizabeth [the aunt’s] Help, they made an entry. Upon entering, Jimmy Mark said he did not know who he was and that their property was for the family only. Note: Mark says that he and Jimmy have known each other for several years and their relationship has been good up to this point. Mark said Jimmy had become aggressive and was afraid his continued presence could escalate [sic] already tense situation. Mark said he quickly got his internet gear and left. While this confrontation was only verbal, it was obvious that something was wrong with Jimmy and he feared that Jimmy would have become physical if he hadn’t gone.

Court documents say investigators found Flaget’s body in his truck – just as the aunt feared. MEPs had to break a window in the vehicle to gain access. Bloody clothing was said to be found in a back seat.

An examination revealed “post mortum [sic] mess . . . along the right thigh, anus and genitals,” the affidavit continues. In the attic, “investigators found suspected human flesh, latex gloves, bloodstained newspapers, bloodstained pieces of duct tape, cutters suspected of blood, [and] multiple areas of blood,” the document adds.

The defendant was described as the “sole occupant” of the attic where the evidence was found, according to court documents.

A later affidavit provided further vivid details of what the defendant allegedly did:

A search of James Russell’s home found a bowl and microwave oven that appeared to contain blood and tissue. These items, along with tissue recovered from the same crime scene, were sent to the Idaho State Lab for testing. According to the state lab, both the bowl and the outside of the microwave contained David Flaget’s DNA.

[ . . . ]

On the morning of September 10, 2021, James Russell and his uncle Mark Russell got into an argument. Later that day, James Russell left a voicemail on Mark Russell’s phone apologizing for his actions and saying, “Sorry . . . I’m maybe a bit sensitive – any kind of food I’ve eaten.”

This later affidavit also referred to an earlier investigation in which the defendant participated – this one in California:

On May 3, 2021, the San Diego Police Department responded to Mesa Vista Hospital, where James Russell’s brothers, Dane and Mark Russell, had taken him for psychiatric treatment. . . . During the investigation, family members told officers James Russell they intended to “cut off pieces of his skin with a knife” to “heal his brain.”

The court documents also state that the defendant “was unable to understand his actions”. miranda Right. However, the defendant reportedly said one thing about the victim’s death: “It’s private property and we don’t like it when it’s not family.”

Under Idaho law“[a]Any person who willfully ingests human flesh or blood is guilty of cannibalism.”

“It is intended to be a positive defense against a violation of the provisions of this section,” the law continues, when “the act was taken in extremely life-threatening conditions as the only apparent means of survival.”

The law has been on the books since 1990. Authorities acknowledged that the cannibalism charge is – perhaps fortunately – a novel one.

In a previous round of research into cannibalism in Idaho, Law&Crime was able to track him down only an appeals process in Idaho discussing practice at Gem State. In that proceeding, the Idaho Court of Appeals said it was “unclear whether” a defendant would be named Thomas Wendell Helms spoke of “true crimes or mere fantasy” as he “bragged about murder and cannibalism to investigators.” The court opinion found that “there is no evidence to support Helm’s horrifying claims” of eating human flesh and that they were therefore not taken seriously.

According to court transcripts in Russell’s case, a review hearing is scheduled for May 17 and a two-day pre-hearing for June 13-14. The case is CR09-21-3993 in Bonn County Magistrates Court in Idaho.

Read some of the case files below (Warning: the details are graphic).

Do you have a tip we should know? [email protected] Accused cannibal James Russell declared competent in court

James Brien

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