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Oldtown murder suspect facing cannibalism charge

by ANNISA KEITH
Hagadone News Network | December 18, 2021 1:00 AM

SANDPOINT — An Oldtown man is being charged with cannibalism in addition to first-degree murder.

Bonner County Prosecutor Louis Marshall filed an amended criminal complaint on Wednesday charging James David Russell, 39, of cannibalism in relation to the Sept. 10 murder of David Flaget.

Pieces of Flaget’s body were found upon searching Russell’s residence the day after the murder, including a “thermal artifact.”

A thermal artifact is an observational finding showing that heat has been applied to only a portion of the remains, as opposed to the entire body.

All of the suspected remains were sent to the Spokane Medical Examiner’s Office.

Dr. Veena Singh completed the autopsy Sept. 13, finding that the tissues discovered in Russell’s residence belonged to Flaget. Some of Flaget’s remains have yet to be found.

A bloodied microwave and glass bowl were among the items seized in the search along with a bloodied knife and duffel bag.

“When dealing with death and carnage it’s a shock to our conscience,” Bonner County Detective Phillip Stella said Thursday. “As far as I know, this is the first cannibalism charge in Idaho.”

On Sept. 10, sheriff’s deputies were notified of a possible murder on Lower Mosquito Creek Road. Upon arrival, they found Flaget upside down in the passenger seat of his truck, unresponsive. Russell ran away from law enforcement, barricading himself in the loft space of the garage building he resided in on the property.

After a brief stand-off, Russell was compliant with law enforcement’s commands and allowed himself to be apprehended.

According to court documents, Russell was unable to understand his Miranda rights after they were repeatedly read to him. Russell made only one statement to law enforcement in which he repeated more than twice: “It’s private property and we don’t like non-family on it.”

“Flaget had several conflict-like run-ins with Russell and told the family about them,” Stella said. “The family had enough warning signs that Mr. Russell was a danger to himself or others.”

According to the supplemental probable cause affidavit, Russell believed he could “heal himself by cutting off portions of flesh” in order to “cure his brain.”

Russell was not screened for substances after being apprehended. There is evidence that a clean-up kit was used to dispose of remains or other evidence after the murder, according to Stella.

Flaget’s wrists were found duct taped together, according to a probable cause affidavit. Since no traces of blood were discovered underneath the tape, it's believed Flaget may have been restrained before he was murdered.

“There’s a lot of facets we will certainly never know,” Stella said. “It wasn’t the bloodiest crime scene, but it’s more of the psychological, ‘What the heck is going on here?’ and ‘Why am I picking up pieces?’ It’s a walk down the dark path that we don’t see very often.”

Court proceedings were paused in late October after First District Magistrate Judge Tara Harden found Russell unfit to stand trial for first-degree murder and ordered him to the Idaho Security Medical Program. The results of the mental health evaluation on Oct. 5 remain under seal by court order.

Russell is scheduled to appear for a review hearing on Dec. 28.

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