Hensley: Not sufficient probable cause to issue warrant; two dead before hearing held
Judge: Made decision with tragic result
Tuesday, October 18, 2016 3:03 PM
Jefferson Superior Court Judge Michael Hensley explained his decision to deny a warrant request on a stalking charge more than a week after an ongoing domestic abuse case turned fatal.
Hensley issued a statement Monday concerning the stalking case filed against Anthony Russell just days before officials believe he killed his wife before killing himself.
Officials found Anthony Russell, 51, of Deputy, dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound Oct. 7 in the 800 block of West Second Street. Less than two hours later, police and the Jefferson County Coroner found 44-year-old Laura Russell dead from multiple stab wounds at the Russell residence in Deputy.
Officers went to the home in the 6000 block of North County Road 933-W to notify Laura Russell of her estranged husband’s death.
The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department is investigating Laura Russell’s death as a homicide.
The two deaths came just days before Anthony Russell was due to appear in Jefferson Superior Court for an initial hearing on a felony charge of stalking after allegedly violating a court-ordered no-contact order with his wife.
Prosecutors requested a warrant be issued in the stalking case, but Hensley denied the request and issued a summons for Anthony Russell to appear in court following a three-day holiday weekend.
Hensley’s decision to summons the man to court caused some to question why a warrant wasn’t issued sooner.
In a written statement, Hensley explained the legal procedure behind his decision to deny the warrant request and instead issue a summons to court. His statement in its entirety:
“Out of respect for the family of Laura Russell I have waited until after her funeral before making any comment on her tragic death. I express my deepest condolences to her loved ones. I feel horrible about her death and realize the regret I express and information I provide in this statement do not bring her back.”
“Still, I feel that her family and the public at large deserve to know what procedurally happened. I did not issue a warrant in this case for the immediate arrest of her estranged husband. My role is not to simply grant all warrants without review. Certain legal standards must be met before I can issue a warrant. The reason I did not issue a warrant in this case is that there was not sufficient probable cause. Without probable cause I do not have the power to issue a warrant. I made what I thought to be the correct legal decision. Obviously, I made a decision that had the most tragic result possible.
“I made my decision with full knowledge of the dangers of domestic violence situations. I represented many victims of domestic violence before I was elected Judge, including volunteering as an attorney when victims were unable to pay my fee. I am well aware of the danger in these situations – yet the fact that an elementary school teacher killed his wife and then himself is still hard for me to believe.
“Judges make difficult decisions every day. My goal is to make sure I have every piece of evidence the law allows me to consider before making a final decision on a warrant request. When I do not find probable cause on a warrant request, I will now issue an order for a hearing to be held on the same day as the warrant request. I am hopeful the new procedure prevents a similar tragedy in the future.
“If you or someone you love is being abused there are many people in the community ready to help. Visit the Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence at www.icadvinc.org or call the 24-Hour Hotline 800-332-7385.”
Jefferson County Prosecutor Chad Lewis wrote in an email to The Madison Courier that he hopes the judge’s procedural change will prevent tragedy in future cases.
“The prosecutor’s office welcomes any procedure changes the judge is willing to make in an effort to prevent a similar tragedy in the future. The judge acknowledging that court procedure could help prevent another tragic decision is a step forward to combat domestic violence and aid in public safety. We look forward to being involved in that discussion and have several suggested changes.
“As the judge describes in his comments, it is his exclusive decision as to whether to issue a warrant, and his subjective decision as to whether he believes there is sufficient probable cause.
“In Indiana, probable cause for arrest exists where facts and circumstances within an officer’s knowledge and of which he has reasonably trustworthy information are sufficient to warrant a man of reasonable caution to believe that an offense has been or is being committed by the person to be arrested. It is a reasonable ground for belief in certain alleged facts. It is more than mere suspicion, but it does not require proof beyond a reasonable doubt, it is a low standard.
“In filing the criminal charges and seeking an arrest warrant, the prosecutor’s office believed there to be probable cause that a crime had been committed. Commencing a prosecution is not permitted by most ethical standards unless the prosecutor believes probable cause exists to believe that a crime has been committed and that the defendant has committed it. This requirement is not considered lightly. The magnitude of the charging decision does not dictate that it be made timidly, but it does dictate that it should be made wisely and with the exercise of sound professional judgment. It was our office’s professional judgment that probable cause did exist.
“The judge’s October 6 order denying the State’s request for a warrant does not mention that he was not finding probable cause. Based on the judge’s letter to the Madison Courier, he did not agree with the Prosecutor’s office and made his own judgments and what he thought to be the correct legal decision. While we disagree with the court’s decision, we must respect the judicial system, the Court, and its judicial function.”
“The prosecutor’s office will continue our responsibility to seek justice, which can only be achieved by the representation and presentation of the truth. This responsibility includes, but is not limited to, ensuring that the guilty are held accountable, that the innocent are protected from unwarranted harm, and the rights of all participants – particularly victims of crime – are respected. So we will continue to seek arrest warrants in cases of domestic violence and intimate partner violence.”