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One-Time Fugitive Loses Challenge in Traffic Death Case

Even though he's been out of prison since April for killing three WSU students in a flaming head-on drunken driving crash, Fred Russell is still trying to nullify his guilty verdicts. His latest attempt failed.

A unanimous Washington State Supreme Court rejected Russell's argument that his right to a public trial was trampled because the judge weeded out hardship requests from jurors in private, back room sessions.

Russell and his lawyers agreed to the preliminary review of hardship cases at the time  - they were called work sessions -with the original jury panel and an additional panel called a few days later.

The high court justices held that legal language upholding the right to a public trial is somewhat squishy, so they fell back on experience and logic to test Russell's complaint, and flatly rejected his case on both counts.

They did, however, issue a short  "oh, by the way" admonition to trial judges to conduct every proceeding, no matter how small, in open court to avoid such legal wrangling.

Russell was convicted in 2007 of three counts of vehicular homicide and three counts of vehicular assault after he caused a head-on crash on the Moscow-Pullman highway. Three WSU students were killed and three others maimed in the fiery wreck from which Russell emerged unscathed.

He failed to show up for his first trial, and was found four years later hiding in Ireland under an assumed name.

Although Russell was sentenced to 14 years in prison, he served only eight with time off for good behavior and with credit for his time in an Irish jail awaiting extradition.

Russell was 21 at the time of crash. He's now 36 and living on parole somewhere in California. His major at WSU at the time was in Criminal Justice.

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