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Shoen Russell looks back at his supporters as he is escorted out of the courtroom following his sentencing hearing for first-degree murder of Darin Mitchell. At the Champaign County Courthouse in Urbana on Friday, July 12, 2019.

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URBANA — A Champaign man who gunned down a lifelong friend during a scuffle is headed to prison for what amounts to the rest of his life.

“I believe he is sincere in his remorse, but I still can’t fathom the reason,” Judge Roger Webber said Friday of Shoen Russell, 49.

Webber said surveillance video from American Legion Post 559, where Darin Mitchell, 48, of Champaign, was shot on Aug. 23, showed clearly “that Mr. Russell initiated the contact that ultimately led to the death of Mr. Mitchell.”

A jury convicted Russell in May of Mr. Mitchell’s first-degree murder, rejecting any claim that Russell acted in self-defense.

Agreeing with the lawyers and family members of Mr. Mitchell that his death was a “senseless tragedy,” Webber said: “No truer words have ever been spoken.”

Webber then sentenced Russell to 65 years in prison. He will have to serve 100 percent of that, minus 285 days that he’s already been in the county jail.

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Purcell Shaw, seated, best friend of Darin Mitchell, is comforted following the sentencing hearing of Shoen Russell. 

The sentence brought sobs from several in courtroom, packed with friends and family of Russell and the late Mr. Mitchell, men who had attended the same schools and whose families interacted as they grew up.

The 48-year-old father, grandfather, son, brother and war veteran was the youngest of seven children of Rhoda Mitchell, who called Russell a “coward” for shooting her son in the abdomen in response to being punched in the face.

Exactly what words were exchanged before that happened died with Mr. Mitchell, who identified Russell as his shooter before being taken to Carle Foundation Hospital. He died there the next morning.

After shooting Mr. Mitchell, Russell fled the area. He was found in Iowa in early October.

Rhoda Mitchell said while her son spent years serving his country, both during the Gulf War of 1991 and later during a tour of Iraq in 2003, she prayed day and night for his safe return.

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Rhoda Mitchell, mother of Darin Mitchell, leaves the stand after giving an impact statement during the sentencing hearing of Shoen Russell. 

“Now look at this situation, Shoen Russell. You knew Darin. You all grew up together, partied together and even took pictures together, just like your mother, Rose, and I used to do,” she said, reading from a written statement. “If you got knocked down, you should have gotten up and headed to the gym to learn how to fight fair.”

Another of Mrs. Mitchell’s five sons, Marlon Mitchell, called Russell out as a town bully.

“We, his family, could digest the loss of Darin more easily if he was killed during his tours of duty in the military, because he made that conscious decision to put his life on the line for this country,” he said. “Instead, he was gunned down during a jovial event amongst family, friends and fellow veterans by someone who has an extensive history of terrorizing the Champaign community.”

He was referring to the party in the parking lot of the Legion at 704 N. Hickory St., C, that Thursday night.

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Judge Roger Webber during the sentencing hearing of Shoen Russell.

Webber said Russell’s criminal convictions began when he was a juvenile and included 18 misdemeanors, four felonies and numerous traffic offenses. The judge said even though his convictions for aggravated battery, mob action and domestic battery were low-level felonies, they “do show a history of violence.”

Russell declined to cooperate in the preparation of a presentence investigation report for Webber.

However, he took advantage of his opportunity to speak before being sentenced.

“Well, Judge, I’m 49 years old facing 45 to 85 years. So whatever number you give me, I ain’t gonna make it,” he said. “I do want the family to know I apologize and I didn’t mean for that to happen. I’m sorry.

“For my family, I love you all. Two S’s and two L’s,” he said, an apparent endearing family reference to the spelling of their surname.

NEWS: Champaign man gets 65 years in 2018 murder near downtown

Assistant State’s Attorney Scott Larson had recommended the maximum 85-year term for Russell, saying he never should have possessed a gun, much less brought it to an outdoor party in a public place.

“He remains a danger to anyone he comes in contact with,” Larson said.

Russell’s attorney, Steve Sarm of Champaign, expressed his sympathy to the Mitchell family and reiterated that Russell didn’t go to the party intent on killing anyone.

“There is remorse. There is remorse,” he said.

Reporter

Mary Schenk is a reporter covering police, courts and breaking news at The News-Gazette. Her email is mschenk@news-gazette.com, and you can follow her on Twitter (@schenk).