Judge: 'I made a decision that had the most tragic result possible'

Judge reacts to deadly domestic violence case

MADISON, Ind. (WHAS11) – More than a week after the controversial death of Laura Russell, Jefferson County Indiana Superior Judge Michael Hensley has released a statement in explaining his decision as it relates to the incident. 

According to police, Anthony Russell attacked his estranged wife in her home, stabbing her multiple times, killing her and then killing himself. The incidents occurred on Oct. 7. The day before Laura’s murder, court documents show the Jefferson County Indiana Prosecutor filed felony 5 stalking charges and a motion to have Anthony arrested. Hensley denied that motion.

In a statement delivered to the Madison Courier on Monday, Hensley said, “I made what I thought to be the correct legal decision. Obviously, I made a decision that had the most tragic result possible. “

Since Laura’s death, Hensley has been under fire for his decision to deny the motion. WHAS11 has attempted to interview Hensley multiple times, but he has continued to deny the requests.

This week, Hensley is out of the office.

Friends of Laura say her death should have never happened, and police confirm Laura did everything she could to keep herself safe. 

Police said 44-year-old Laura Russell and her husband, 51-year-old Anthony Russell had a history of domestic violence, and Laura had a no contact order.

Police said she called and reported several incidents of Anthony violating the no contact order, following the court's instructions.

"Laura did everything right and it’s a tragic situation,” Jefferson County Sheriff John Wallace said.

According to court documents, Anthony was arrested and charged with strangulation, domestic battery, and interference with reporting a crime in August. Laura filed for a received a no contact order the next day.

Court documents show Anthony continued stalking Laura- following her and waiting for her.

Days after the no contact order was filed, Laura told police Tony was reportedly waiting for her in a restaurant parking lot, as she ate lunch with her friends. The documents state it is believed Anthony followed Laura when she left. Later that night, Laura reported Anthony had sent her a text message.

On Sep. 19, Laura reported leaving work the same way she always does, but while passing the Jefferson County Health Department, Anthony was waiting for her. 

He tried to wave her down, but Laura kept going and called the police, the documents state.

The next day, documents show Laura called The Madison Police Department after seeing Anthony at the gas station near her daughter’s school. She had been dropping her daughter off.

Two weeks after that, Anthony followed Laura to the gym, according to court documents. A gym employee called police after she said she saw Anthony through the front door, trying to get in.

"I think she tried all the avenues that she could to stay safe,” Wallace said.

But if she did everything right, and the courts did everything right, shouldn’t Laura be alive? That’s the question many community members continue to ask. But until Monday, no one had given answers.

This is Judge Hensley’s complete statement. It was delivered to the Madison Courier Journal office on Monday.

“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.”

WHAS11’ Shay McAlister continues to follow this story. Stay up to date with the developments on her Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/shaymcalisterTV


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