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Murder defendant pleads not guilty

Russell charged in FD woman's Jan. 20 death

Mark Russell, the Fort Dodge man accused of killing his ex-girlfriend’s mother in January, pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder in a written arraignment Monday.

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

The written plea was filed after Russell, 29, wrote a pro se letter directly to District Court Judge Angela Doyle, saying he would like to plead guilty in his case.

“I have asked for a plea bargin (sic) and have not received it,” he said. “I (realize) I have made a mistake and need (to) deal with it. I am ready to settle this right away so I can be on my way to prison.”

In his July 27 letter, Russell wrote that he had “yet to let my attorney know” and that “he would disagree with this, but I am tired of sitting up here in jail.”

Russell was found competent to stand trial in May following his commitment to the Iowa Medical and Classification Center (Oakdale) in Coralville, where he underwent treatment after his lawyer noted ongoing concerns about symptoms related to his documented history with schizophrenia.

Before he was restored to competency through treatment, defense attorney Charles Kenville told the court that Russell sent letters to him saying he wanted to plead guilty because he could “better fight this case from inside the prison,” in his defense. Subsequent letters said the exact opposite, Kenville said.

“Pro se filings in cases where a defendant is represented by counsel are not to be considered by the court, so the court will take no action,” Doyle said, citing Iowa code in response to the letter.

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

Fort Dodge 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.

A witness to the alleged crime scene told police in a subsequent interview that Russell had verbally threatened to kill McLeod before and on the day that she died.

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