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Murder suspect found competent to stand trial

Proceedings against Mark Russell will resume

-Messenger photo by Elijah Decious
Mark Russell appears in court Friday for a competency hearing in his first-degree murder case. Masks are mandated by the court for everyone entering the courtroom as a COVID-19 precaution.

After a psychiatric evaluation and establishment of an appropriate medication regimen, first-degree murder defendant Mark Russell was declared competent Friday morning to stand trial.

Russell, 28, is accused of killing his ex-girlfriend’s mother, Angela McLeod, with a golf club in her North 14th Street home Jan. 20 following an altercation.

A psychiatric competency evaluation was completed April 21 at the Iowa Medical and Classification Center (Oakdale) in Coralville, according to District Court Judge Angela Doyle.

Defense attorney Charles Kenville said the Fort Dodge man had “improved vastly” with his schizophrenia symptoms over their last two meetings prior to Friday.

In a March 5 hearing, Kenville said that the defendant had difficulty following the proceedings against him and assisting in preparation for his defense, with incidents characterized by a detachment from reality, a symptom of schizophrenia. Chief District Court Judge Kurt Wilke found probable cause of mental incompetency at that hearing, remanding him to the IMCC for further evaluation and treatment.

Prior to arraignment, he said Russell sent two letters saying he wanted to plead guilty because he could “better fight the case from inside the prison.”

“Those two ideas, those two concepts, don’t compute,” Kenville said previously. “You can’t both plead guilty, go to prison and continue to defend yourself against the charges.”

A subsequent letter from the defendant did a complete turn, saying he wanted to plead not guilty.

Criminal proceedings against Russell will now resume, and the next steps up to and including the trial will be scheduled. Per order of the Iowa Supreme Court, criminal jury trials cannot be scheduled until at least September. The precautionary moratorium, a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, was extended earlier this month from its original July expiration.

According to the witness that called 911 the morning McLeod died, Russell said to McLeod that she “wasn’t going to leave the bedroom alive” that day. The witness told a detective in a subsequent interview 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, according to court documents that depict a bloody, gruesome scene.

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