Detective says dying man identified Champaign man on trial as shooter

 

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URBANA — A dying man told a Champaign police detective that Shoen Russell shot him last summer.

"He was drunk, high," Darin Mitchell told Detective Rob DeLong before being taken to surgery for a single gunshot to his abdomen that killed him the next day.

As the last witness for the prosecution in the first-degree murder trial of Russell, 49, DeLong said before he could even introduce himself to Mr. Mitchell in the Carle emergency room, the gravely wounded man volunteered to him that "Shoen Russell shot me."

The shooting occurred at 9:12 p.m. Aug. 23 outside the American Legion at 704 N. Hickory St., C, an incident witnessed by several people.

DeLong said he asked Mr. Mitchell how he knew Russell, and the 48-year-old father and grandfather replied that he had grown up in the area and known Russell for 30 to 40 years.

Assistant State's Attorney Scott Larson rested his case Tuesday afternoon following DeLong's testimony. He was the ninth witness.

Russell's attorney, Steve Sarm of Champaign, told the jury and Judge Roger Webber in opening statements that his client fired on Mr. Mitchell in self-defense.

However, a jury of seven women and five men seated Monday heard three eyewitnesses testify that Russell was the aggressor.

Legion manager Richard Davis said he was outside the facility as its Backyard Boogie celebration was winding down, standing next to Mr. Mitchell.

Davis said Mr. Mitchell, a fellow veteran, had just given him his phone number to accompany his offer to help Davis in the future when Russell approached.

"He got in Darin's face and the next thing I knew, Darin's fist went by my face and the man in blue (Russell) fell backwards and pulled out a pistol and shot him," Davis said, adding he had "no idea" why Russell and Mr. Mitchell were arguing.

Immediately after firing the single round, Russell walked west out of the parking lot and north on Hickory Street, Davis said.

Russell was not arrested until October, when he was found in Waterloo, Iowa. The gun used to shoot Mr. Mitchell has never been recovered, police said.

Another eyewitness, Yvonne Kelly, said she believed that Russell, whom she did not know, swung at or pushed Mr. Mitchell first and that Mr. Mitchell had done nothing to provoke Russell.

In response, Mr. Mitchell swung at Russell with a fist, she said.

"After Darin connected, the other person stumbled, came to his feet, then pulled out a gun and shot him," she said, adding that the entire encounter took only seconds.

Kelly said she heard the shot and saw sparks come from the gun, then saw Russell put the gun in his pants and walk out the gate surrounding the Legion and north on Hickory. She then ran to Mr. Mitchell, whom she had known about two years from being at the Legion and from being his landlord.

"I grabbed Darin and held him in my arms and told him he was going to be all right," Kelly said, crying softly at the memory.

Steve Woodard, who also knew both Mr. Mitchell and Russell, said he saw the two on the sidewalk in front of the building yelling but wasn't sure who was yelling at whom.

Woodard said Russell pushed Mr. Mitchell and Mr. Mitchell then punched Russell.

"Shoen Russell fell backward toward the front door, pulled the gun and shot him," said Woodard, adding he saw the flame shoot from the muzzle.

Woodard described Mr. Mitchell as "pretty much just standing there" when Russell approached and pushed him, prompting Mr. Mitchell to punch Russell.

Russell "almost immediately" pulled the gun from his waistband and fired, Woodard said.

Dr. Shiping Bao, who did the autopsy on Mr. Mitchell, said he died from heavy bleeding caused by the single shot that severed arteries in his abdomen. The shot entered in the front on the right, traveled downward and exited his left buttock, doing major internal damage along the way.

Mr. Mitchell was shot at 9:12 p.m. Aug. 23 and died at 7:13 a.m. Aug. 24 from complications that developed.

The defense case is expected today.

The courtroom was crowded Tuesday with about three dozen spectators, friends and supporters of both Russell and Mr. Mitchell.

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).