A 40-year-old man in Idaho will spend the rest of his life behind bars for brutally killing the 70-year-old caretaker of his grandfather’s property and eating parts of the victim’s remains. First District Judge Barbara Buchanan on Monday ordered James David Russell to serve a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole for the 2021 slaying of David M. Flaget, authorities confirmed to Law&Crime.
Russell was initially charged with first-degree murder and one count of cannibalism. However, Judge Buchanan last summer dismissed the latter charge due to lack of evidence — the case was believed to have been the first true use of Idaho’s anti-cannibalism statute since it hit the books in 1990. In November, Russell reached a deal with prosecutors who agreed to dismiss the first-degree murder charge on the condition he plead guilty to second-degree murder.
Given the grisly nature of the crime, Judge Buchanan said her decision to impose a fixed life sentence stemmed from her focus on the “protection of society,” one of the state’s four sentencing objectives, according to a report from the Coeur d’Alene Press.
“This court cannot fathom a way that society can be protected except for Mr. Russell to be confined,” Buchanan reportedly said.
The judge also explained that she considered Russell’s mental illness, but said that it simultaneously reduced and amplified the gravity of the crime, the Press reported.
“In this case, as Mr. Marshall said, mental illness is in a way a mitigating factor, but it is also an aggravating factor,” Buchanan reportedly said, noting that Russell had also stopped taking his medication for approximately a year. “Because the court has no certainty … that society can be safe unless Mr. Russell is confined, no way that Mr. Russell can be safe.”
Given the chance to address the court, Russell apologized for his actions and said he wished technology existed that could bring Flaget back to life, per the Press.
As previously reported by Law&Crime, deputies with the Bonner County Sheriff’s Office in September 2021 responded to a report of a “suspicious death” on Lower Mosquito Road in Clark Fork, Idaho. First responders found Flaget dead in his own truck, but investigators quickly came to suspect Russell as the killer.
A subsequent autopsy showed that Flaget’s death was a homicide caused by blunt force trauma to his head and neck. The medical examiner also flagged evidence of postmortem mutilation to multiple areas of Flaget’s body, indicating that flesh had been removed.
An affidavit submitted in court stated that Russell was the “sole resident” of a nearby loft where investigators recovered “human flesh, latex gloves, bloody newspapers, bloody duct tape pieces, cutting implements with suspected blood, [and] several areas of blood.”
A subsequent affidavit supplied even more graphic and gory details:
During the search of James Russell’s apartment, a bowl and microwave containing apparent blood and tissue were seized. These items, along with the tissue recovered at the same scene were sent to the Idaho State Lab for testing. According to the state lab, both the bowl and the outside of the microwave contained David Flaget’s DNA.
[ . . . ]
During the morning of September 10, 2021, James Russell and his uncle, Mark Russell, got into an argument. Later that day, James Russell left a voicemail on Mark Russell’s phone apologizing for his actions stating, “Sorry . . . I might be a little sensitive — some sort of food I ate.”
Authorities alleged that Russell believed he could “cure his brain” by eating Flaget’s remains.
Six of Flaget’s family members read victim impact statements in court, all of which asked the judge to impose a sentence of life in prison, the Press reported.
(image via Bonner County Sheriff’s Office)
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