Sentinel Staff Writer
January 10, 2009
David Byron Russ, the 46-year-old Apopka man who could face the death penalty for strangling and stabbing a Longwood-area woman, broke down and cried Friday as his brother described the beatings they suffered as children.
Aaron Russ of Lubbock, Texas, told a judge that their father beat them with pots, pans, a garden hose, pieces of wood -- "whatever he could get his hands on."
That testimony was part of a two-day penalty hearing in Russ' case.
Last year, he pleaded guilty to charges that he broke into the home of 58-year-old Madeleine Leinen on May 7, 2007, waited for her to come home and killed her.
Her body was found on the bathroom floor the next morning. She had been bound, strangled and stabbed.
In letters to Circuit Judge Marlene Alva, Russ has confessed, described himself as a coldblooded killer that day and said he deserves the death penalty.
Alva must now decide whether to give it to him.
Russ would not let his attorney present any evidence that might spare him. As a consequence, the judge hired two other attorneys to do so. Russ did not testify at the two-day hearing, which concluded Friday, but he will talk to Alva next Thursday.
Assistant State Attorney Gino Feliciani asked Alva to impose the death penalty. The attack on Leinen was brutal, he said. She was attacked as she unloaded groceries from her car.
Russ punched her in the face, blackening both her eyes. He also stabbed her once in the back of the head and hit her twice more in the head with a blunt object.
He tied the rope so tightly around her wrists, it cut off circulation to her hands. He pulled the ligature so tightly around her neck, it gouged a groove deep into her flesh, Feliciani said.
Special court-appointed attorney Mike Nielsen asked Alva to spare Russ. He was abused as a child, but when he's free of drugs he is a kind, smart man, Nielsen said.
"If Mr. Russ didn't have this addiction to drugs, Miss Leinen would be here today," Nielsen said. "We believe, Judge, his is a life worth saving."
It's not clear when the judge will announce her decision.
Rene Stutzman can be reached at 407-650-6394 or firstname.lastname@example.org.