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Murder defendant’s attorney requests competency hearing

Suspect was released from prison six weeks before homicide

Mark Russell

A defense attorney for the man accused of killing his ex-girlfriend’s mother with a golf club has requested a competency hearing, according to court filings.

Mark Russell, 28, is charged with first-degree murder after Angela McLeod, 45, was found dead in her North 14th Street home Jan. 20.

Defense attorney Charles Kenville said that Russell has exhibited signs of paranoia and hallucinations consistent with symptoms of schizophrenia, noting that Russell has previously been diagnosed and treated for schizophrenia, according to family members.

A December interaction with law enforcement in Sac City resulted in the defendant being taken to Loring Hospital for a mental health evaluation, where the officer apparently told hospital staff that she believed he was having auditory hallucinations. Russell was released from prison in December, just three weeks prior to that incident.

“Body camera video from that incident records the defendant making statements that he believed ‘people were after him’ and other statements consistent with a serious mental illness,” said Kenville. “The defendant stated he was ‘scared’ and requested ‘help’ from a Sac City police officer.”

Kenville also noted that recent meetings with Russell demonstrated that he does not understand the nature of the criminal proceedings against him and he is unable to assist in his own defense — the legal definition of incompetency in this context.

The motion filed Thursday asks the court to transport Russell to the Iowa Medical and Classification Center (Oakdale) in Coralville for a mental health evaluation and to suspend all criminal proceedings until his competency is determined.

Chief District Court Judge Kurt Wilke has scheduled the competency hearing for March 2, postponing a previously scheduled arraignment to March 16. The request on behalf of the defendant is not the same as an “insanity plea” strategy done during the course of a criminal trial.

Detective interviews with a witness, who called 911 from outside the home, indicated that the apparent assault on McLeod started after the defendant broke the victim’s cell phone.

Fort Dodge police spoke with both the defendant and the victim about an hour before they responded to a second call, finding McLeod dead. The first response yielded no arrests.

“Based on the responding officer’s initial investigation … it was impossible for those officers to determine fault or who the initial aggressor was,” Fort Dodge Police Department said in a statement, released in response to a Messenger inquiry about the first call. “With no evidence of a physical assault and no third-party information, officers had no choice but to allow Mr. Russell and Ms. McLeod to carry on throughout their day with both parties agreeing to work past their differences.”

According to the witness that called 911, Russell said to McLeod that she “wasn’t going to leave the bedroom alive” that day. She said that Russell had threatened to kill the victim before.

Upon Russell’s arrest, criminal complaints surfaced several incriminating statements allegedly made by him both on the scene and in subsequent interviews.

Police said that during an interview with the defendant, he claimed responsibility for the injuries McLeod sustained before her death, saying that he struck McLeod at least three times with the golf club. He said that at least one of those strikes was in the face while she was on the ground. Police found the golf club with its head detached in the home.

“I’m going to kill this b – – – -,” is what Russell said was going through his mind during the assault, according to the complaints, which depict a gruesome narrative of the victim choking on her own blood.

Russell, who was released from prison just six weeks before he was charged with murder last month, has been in and out of jail and prison several times since 2012, according to the Iowa Department of Corrections. Charges he served time for were aggravated or serious misdemeanors.

Previous criminal complaints include acts of assaulting a Fort Dodge police officer, assaulting an intimate partner with a knife, weapons charges and stealing a car.

Mental health evaluations and treatment have been incorporated as stipulations of various sentences to Russell’s previous convictions.

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