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Idaho Man Charged with Murder, Cannibalism Thought Eating the Victim Would ‘Cure His Brain’: Reports

James 'Jimmy' David Russell appears in a mugshot taken by the Bonner County, Idaho Sheriff's Office.

James ‘Jimmy’ David Russell appears in a mugshot taken by the Bonner County, Idaho Sheriff’s Office.

Idaho prosecutors have filed amended charging documents in the case of a man accused of murder and cannibalism.  Local law enforcement authorities said the cannibalism charge is believed to be the first of its kind in Idaho since a state statute banned the practice more than three decades ago.

According to court records, James David Russell is charged with first-degree murder “committed in perpetration of specific times or by use of certain weapons” as well as cannibalism.  Both charges are felonies.  The cannibalism charge alone is punishable by up to 14 years in prison, according to a state statute.

A press release issued Sept. 13 by the Bonner County Sheriff’s Office says deputies responded to a call about a “suspicious death” on Lower Mosquito Road in Clark Fork, Idaho, more than eight hours north of Boise in the state’s panhandle region and only 80 miles south of the Canadian border.

“Once on the scene, deputies found a male, David M Flaget, age 70, of Clark Fork, unresponsive inside a vehicle,” the press release continued.  “Deputies located James ‘Jimmy’ David Russell, age 39, who at the time was living on the property.  There was an indication that he had been involved in this death.”

“The subsequent investigation by detectives established probable cause that David Flaget had died at the hands of James Russell,” the press release said in a brief and conclusory fashion.

Few other factual details were given at the time.  The press release did indicate, and court records also show, that a judge ordered a competency hearing for Russell.  No bond was set.  The defendant was ultimately sent to the Idaho Security Medical Program for further evaluation.

Local newspaper reports have since revealed additional grisly details from official documents and court proceedings.  Citing an autopsy report and newly filed court papers, Idaho’s Hagadone News Network said “[p]ieces of Flaget’s body were found” around Russell’s house “the day after the murder.”  Those “pieces” included a “thermal artifact” — “an observational finding showing that heat has been applied to only a portion of the remains, as opposed to the entire body,” the newspaper reports said.

The reports also indicate that human “tissues” were discovered in Russell’s home.  Authorities seized a “bloodied microwave and glass bowl” as well as “a bloodied knife and duffel bag” as part of their search for clues.

According to the newspapers, a supplemental probable cause affidavit alleges that Russell thought he could “heal himself by cutting off portions of flesh.”  Doing so, he believed, would “cure his brain,” according to court filings cited by local reporters.

Bonner County Detective Phillip Stella indicated that a so-called “clean-up kit” was employed to dispose of items and evidence, according to the newspapers.

Authorities believe the victim was duct taped before he was killed, court documents reportedly indicate.

Stella acknowledged that the shocking case would no doubt haunt the imaginations of those who learned about it.

“There’s a lot of facets we will certainly never know,” Stella continued, again according to the newspapers. “It wasn’t the bloodiest crime scene, but it’s more of the psychological, ‘What the heck is going on here?’ and ‘Why am I picking up pieces?’ It’s a walk down the dark path that we don’t see very often.”

When authorities arrived on Lower Mosquito Creek Road to investigate the matter, Russell ran away, barricaded himself in a loft above his garage, and engaged in what the newspaper called a “brief” standoff.  However, he eventually allowed deputies to place him under arrest.

Stella told the newspapers that relatives told the authorities that Flaget and Russell had previous run-ins with one another.

Russell reportedly did not understand his Miranda rights after several attempts by officers to read them.  He apparently kept uttering that the land where the killing occurred was “private property” and that “we don’t like non-family on it.”

Earlier reports by the Bonner County Daily Bee quoted county coroner Robert Beers as having indicated that Flaget’s body exhibited “evidence of post mortem mayhem.”  Beers said that Flaget died from “massive trauma” to the head.

“Also discovered” at the scene “was suspected human flesh, cutting implements, bloody newspapers, and other paraphernalia such as latex gloves and duct tape pieces,” the Bee noted back on Sept. 14.

Under Idaho law, “[a]ny person who wilfully ingests the flesh or blood of a human being is guilty of cannibalism.”  

It shall be an affirmative defense to a violation of the provisions of this section,” however, “that the action was taken under extreme life-threatening conditions as the only apparent means of survival.”

The law has been on the books since 1990.  Authorities admitted that the cannibalism charge is — perhaps thankfully — a novel one.

“When dealing with death and carnage it’s a shock to our conscience,” Detective Stella added, again according to the newspapers. “As far as I know, this is the first cannibalism charge in Idaho.”

Law&Crime was able to locate only one Idaho appellate case that discusses the possible commission of cannibalism in the Gem State.  In that case, the Idaho Court of Appeals said that it was “unclear whether” a different defendant, Thomas Wendell Helms, was discussing “true crimes or mere fantasy.”  The court opinion noted that “there exists no evidence to corroborate any of Helms’s frightening claims” and, as such, they were not taken seriously.

The prosecution’s case against James Russell was filed Sept. 13.  It is number CR09-21-3993 in Idaho’s Bonner County Magistrate Court.  A review hearing is scheduled for Dec. 28 at 1:15 p.m.

Read the sheriff’s initial press release below:

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Aaron Keller holds a juris doctor degree from the University of New Hampshire School of Law and a broadcast journalism degree from Syracuse University. He is a former anchor and executive producer for the Law&Crime Network and is now deputy editor-in-chief for the Law&Crime website. DISCLAIMER:  This website is for general informational purposes only. You should not rely on it for legal advice. Reading this site or interacting with the author via this site does not create an attorney-client relationship. This website is not a substitute for the advice of an attorney. Speak to a competent lawyer in your jurisdiction for legal advice and representation relevant to your situation.