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Murder defendant denied new attorney

Conflict was resolved after motion made

A request for new court-appointed counsel was denied Monday after defendant Mark Russell, the man accused of murdering his ex-girlfriend’s mother in January, said conflicts with his attorney have been resolved.

“Mr. Kendille (sic) does not answer any of, nor does he return any of my calls,” Russell said in a handwritten letter filed June 16, telling the court that his attorney, Charles Kenville, has visited him only three times.

Russell was charged with first-degree murder after Angela McLeod, 45, was found dead in her North 14th Street home Jan. 20 following an apparent altercation that Fort Dodge police responded to twice.

The Fort Dodge man, 29, said that requests, like one for a change of venue, “is put on the back burner or goes ignored,” pleading for an attorney that will “provide me a fair shake at a defense in my case.”

But at a phone hearing Monday to determine the fate of his motion, Russell said that issues with Kenville had been resolved, telling District Court Judge Angela Doyle that he no longer wished for a new attorney.

“I don’t know that everything he wrote in the letter was accurate,” Kenville said. “I saw him three times prior to moving for the competency hearing.”

Kenville said that he has been visiting Russell on a weekly basis since the letter was sent in June — the only client he has visited in person during the pandemic. He also said issues with the phone system used by the Webster County Jail provided further complications to their communications.

In March, Russell was remanded to the Iowa Medical and Classification Center (Oakdale) in Coralville for evaluation and treatment. At that hearing, Kenville said that Russell was experiencing delusions detached from reality and symptoms that corroborated his schizophrenia diagnosis.

At a May hearing, prompted by positive psychiatric evaluations, Doyle found he had been restored to competency with treatment and ordered proceedings to resume.

The Iowa Supreme Court, with an initial moratorium on criminal jury trials until July, extended its precautionary order until September due to looming COVID-19 concerns. A murder trial would require keeping a large number of potential jurors in a room for an extended period of time to conduct jury selection.

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.

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