10-year confinement sentence thrown out on appeal

(WTHI Photo, file)
(WTHI Photo, file)

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A western Indiana man who challenged his 10-year sentence for confining three adopted children in a padlocked bedroom now might face 56 years or more in prison after an appeals court threw out his plea agreement.

The Indiana Court of Appeals has ruled a plea agreement improperly capped the sentence given Larry Russell of Terre Haute at 10 years. The ruling said he can either be resentenced under his plea agreement to up to 56 years or he can have the deal thrown out, go to trial and face a possible maximum sentence of 68 years.

“He was unhappy he got the 10,” Vigo County Prosecutor Terry Modesitt said Tuesday. “It’s very ironic.”

Russell, 40, pleaded guilty to neglect and criminal confinement charges last year under the plea agreement. He and his wife, Nikki, were arrested in November 2012 after one of the three children, then 17, escaped the home and sought help.

The appeals court ruling handed down Thursday noted the children were held padlocked in the unlit bedroom for 18 to 24 hours per day and deprived of food and access to a bathroom for extended periods over three months. The Russells duct-taped diapers to them, and Larry Russell “waterboarded the children and bound their arms behind their backs with a belt,” the ruling said. The children resorted to burrowing through walls and a ceiling to get food and to urinating in a plastic bottle.

Modisett said in a telephone interview that two judges he consulted and the Indiana Prosecutor’s Council advised the plea bargain could carry a sentence of no more than 10 years in prison. The Indiana Department of Correction lists his earliest possible release date as Nov. 23, 2017, which would amount to a five-year sentence with credit for time served since his arrest and credit for good behavior.

But Russell was not happy with the sentence, his attorney, Cara Schaefer Wieneke, said. The DOC was not providing him access to programs that would further reduce his sentence, and he was unhappy with other conditions of his confinement at the medium-security Correctional Industrial Facility in Pendleton, about 25 miles northeast of Indianapolis.

The appeals court ruled Modisett and the trial judge misinterpreted Indiana law and sentencing guidelines in capping Russell’s sentence at 10 years.

“I was surprised by the decision, and we well be petitioning the Supreme Court for transfer,” Wieneke said.

“I know he’s going to be disappointed by it,” she said of Russell.

Modisett said he was pleased by the ruling and the opportunity to seek a longer sentence for Russell. He said he argued at the original sentencing that the 10-year cap was a “travesty.”

“Now it’s back to square one,” he said.

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