On September 10th, 2021 officers of the Sandpoint Police Department found the body of David M. Flaget wrapped in plastic and placed upside down in the passenger seat of James D. Russell’s vehicle. An autopsy revealed that Flaget died from blunt force trauma to the head and neck, as well as postmortem mutilation to multiple areas of Flaget’s body and that flesh had been removed. The attack occurred while victim was working as a caretaker of the Russell family’s property. After a brief stand off, police were able to make the arrest.
Investigators say that Russel had eaten some of Flaget’s remains because he believed that it would “cute his brain.” After being examined by a psychologist, Russel was diagnosed with multiple significant mental illnesses, including schizophrenia, and violent delusions beyond his control, Law and Crime reported.
Months later, Russel pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in exchange for the state dropping a first-degree murder charge and a cannibalism charge as part of a plea deal.
Brittney Cornwell, Flaget’s granddaughter, shared her frustrations with the court.
“This crime was preventable. James Russell’s family and the justice system failed not only James but more importantly, my grandpa,” she said. “There is a trail of red flags that led to this time, a crime so egregious that I have spent the last year and a half of my life trying to come to terms with it.”
In November and December of 2020, there were police reports stating that Russel had assaulted Flaget. In May, 2021, a welfare check on Russel led to the injuries of six people, including two officers.
After much deliberation, First District Judge Barbara Buchanan ordered Russel to serve life in prison on Monday, January 30th. “The court has no certainty that society can be safe unless Mr. Russell is confined,” she explained.