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Moira murderer’s appeal denied

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MALONE - A Moira man sentenced in 2006 to 20 years to life for the 2005 murder of his wife recently tried to have his sentence thrown out, but the motion was denied by Franklin County Court Judge Robert G. Main Jr.

Ernest Russell, a former corrections officer, had filed a motion seeking to vacate judgement and sentence on the grounds that he was mentally incompetent at the time of his plea of guilty to one count each of second-degree murder and third-degree rape.

In his decision, Judge Main pointed out that the court did not observe or find anything that would have warranted a competency hearing.

“Nothing in the proceedings before this court established, or suggested, doubt of [Russell]’s competence to enter a plea of guilty or stand trial,” Judge Main said in his decision.

The decision also noted Russell was able to appropriately engage in all proceedings, that his plea was voluntary and that he had time to consult with his legal counsel.

“Aided by the pre-sentence investigation conducted by the Franklin County Probation Department, this court had no concern with regard to the defendant’s competency to proceed and no basis upon which to become concerned,” the decision noted.

Judge Main’s decision also pointed out Russell does not provide “any allegations regarding his mental state or condition, at the time of proceedings” that would support the claim of incompetence.

In New York state, a defendant is presumed competent and is not automatically entitled to have his or her level of competency examined. Furthermore, even if Russell had provided a history of psychiatric illness or incompetency, it “does not in itself call into question defendant’s competency to stand trial,” the decision read.

The document also included statements from then-Malone Town Judge John Marsden noting that Russell “appeared to understand the charges” when he appeared before him following his arrest. He said Russell responded affirmatively that he understood his rights, gave his name, address, social security and phone numbers and declined medical treatment when it was offered.

Russell claimed that Judge Marsden ordered a competency hearing (but had previously made the claim that the sentence is invalid because Franklin County Court had not ordered a competency hearing).

“Town Justice Marsden confirmed, by affidavit, that he did not order a competency evaluation,” the decision read.

“We receive motions from defendants like this for years and years and years, and we prosecute 2,000 cases a year. It’s a waste of resources and it’s ludicrous,” Franklin County District Attorney Derek Champagne said. He thinks that Russell is suffering from “buyer’s remorse,” where he accepted responsibility and after serving several years in prison is now deciding he wants to be free again.

“I think he’s just bored,” Mr. Champagne said.

Russell was arrested in June 2005 following a two-day manhunt after his wife had been found murdered. Russell slit her throat and then burned their house to try and cover up the crime and. Police found Russell several miles from the crime scene. Mr. Champagne said Russell had walked several miles along a stream that led toward the Canadian border.

The third-degree rape charge came from an arrest several days before the murder. He was accused of having a sexual relationship with an underage girl. He pleaded guilty to the charge and was sentenced to one to three years to be served consecutive to the murder sentence.

Mr. Champagne said that Russell and his wife had been trying to work their relationship out in the wake of the rape arrest.

Russell is currently serving his time at Attica Correctional Facility and will be eligible for a parole hearing in February 2026, according to the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision website.

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