A northern Idaho judge this week threw out a cannibalism charge against a man accused of murdering a property caretaker whose body parts he allegedly microwaved and whose body he allegedly wrapped in plastic and left in a truck.
According to court records, Bonner County Magistrate Judge Tera A. Harden dismissed the cannibalism count against James “Jimmy” David Russell, now 40, on Monday, June 13, during a preliminary hearing. The defendant is still charged with the more serious charge of first-degree murder under the following Idaho statute:
(a) All murder which is perpetrated by means of poison, or lying in wait, or torture, when torture is inflicted with the intent to cause suffering, to execute vengeance, to extort something from the victim, or to satisfy some sadistic inclination, or which is perpetrated by any kind of willful, deliberate and premeditated killing is murder of the first degree.
As Law&Crime has previously reported, the case is believed to have been the first true use of Idaho’s anti-cannibalism statute since it hit the books in 1990.
The cannibalism charge alone was punishable by up to 14 years in prison, according to a state statute. However, the murder charge is punishable a maximum possible penalty of life in prison or the death penalty, so the dismissal of the cannibalism count may have very little effect legally if Russell is convicted and sentenced.
According to a sheriff’s office press release and court documents obtained by Law&Crime in April, Bonner County deputies responded to a report of a “suspicious death” on Lower Mosquito Road in Clark Fork, Idaho. The authorities found David Milton Flaget, 70, dead in his own truck, and they quickly came to suspect Russell as the killer — thanks in part to observations and statements by his own aunt and uncle.
Deputies had to break a window in Flaget’s truck in order to gain entry to the vehicle, according to a sheriff’s office affidavit. Bloody clothes were allegedly in a rear seat. Flaget was reportedly wrapped in plastic.
An investigation revealed “post mortum [sic] mayhem . . . along the right thigh, anus and genitalia,” the law enforcement affidavit continues.
The court paperwork says Russell was the “sole resident” of a nearby loft. Inside, “investigators found suspected human flesh, latex gloves, bloody newspapers, bloody duct tape pieces, cutting implements with suspected blood, [and] several areas of blood,” the affidavit indicates.
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.”
The authorities alleged that Russell believed he could “cure his brain” by eating Flaget’s remains.
The Associated Press reported that Flaget is believed to have died from blunt force trauma to the head. Blood was allegedly dripping out of his vehicle.
During this week’s preliminary hearing, the AP said that a defense attorney asked a detective “if he was aware that Russell was under the care of a psychiatrist, prescribed medication and that he heard imaginary voices.”
The detective reportedly responded that he was “unaware of Russell’s medical history.”
A judge ruled in April that Russell was mentally fit to stand trial, but the court records contain evidence that Russell had a history of psychiatric and mental health issues.
An arraignment in district court is scheduled for June 21.
Some of the case file we obtained in April is below:
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