TERRE HAUTE —
A Terre Haute couple — charged with multiple counts of child neglect and criminal confinement for allegedly tying some of their children to beds and denying the youths food — have a history of marital discord.
Larry Russell, 39, was arrested in June for domestic battery in the presence of a child. His wife Nikki Russell, 35, was the victim. A court record shows that at least two of their five children were present in the home when a 911 dispatcher heard a woman yell “just kill me” followed by two gunshots.
Larry and Nikki Russell face six counts of child neglect and five counts of criminal confinement for unrelated actions at their North 12th Street home. Police arrested the couple Friday when their 17-year-old adopted son reported abuse allegations after he escaped the home by jumping from a second story window on the day after Thanksgiving.
Nikki Russell also faces two counts of battery by bodily waste and one count of battery resulting in bodily injury for a total of 14 criminal charges.
Each defendant faces about 48 years in prison if convicted on all charges.
The five children in the home — ranging in age from 10 to 17 — are now considered Children In Need of Services, and are in the care of the state Department of Child Services, said Vigo County Prosecutor Terry Modesitt on Wednesday.
Ironically, four of the Russell’s children had been foster children when placed with the Russells by DCS. Modesitt said that the Russell’s adoption of the oldest child occurred in 2008, while adoption of the three younger children was court-approved in April.
A DCS spokesperson told the Tribune-Star that the Russells are no longer foster parents, but they had passed background checks, completed foster parent training and passed a home inspection before they were certified as foster parents.
“A prison cell”
Detective Travis Chesshir said Wednesday following the Russell’s court appearance that the conditions he saw in one bedroom of the North 12th Street home were like “a prison cell.”
“I saw no personal belongings for any children,” Chesshir said.
The room where three of the boys stayed contained only three beds, including a bunk bed, he said. “There were no clothes. There was nothing on the walls.”
Police investigating the allegations made by the 17-year-old found rope and duct tape in the bedroom where the boy said he and his brothers were tied to the beds.
The youths were allegedly often padlocked inside their bedroom without access to bathroom facilities. Three of the class-C felony allegations of neglect of a dependent state that the children were deprived “of necessary food, water and/or sanitary facilities.”
The teen told police that another boy and girl in the home were allowed to eat a “Thanksgiving feast” with Larry and Nikki Russell on Nov. 22, but the teen and two other adopted boys were kept locked in their bedroom. They were reportedly given only two burritos and a half-glass of water to share on that day.
The 17-year-old boy weighed 93 pounds when he was examined at Union Hospital, Chesshir said. The teen had been taken to the hospital by a passerby who stopped to assist the shoeless youth, who was wearing only a T-shirt and pajama pants when he escaped from the home.
Chesshir described the teen as “skinny. He wanted a lot to eat and a lot to drink.”
But hospital personnel warned against feeding the teen too much due to his condition.
“He was well-spoken,” Chesshir said of the boy’s demeanor when the teen reported his alleged homelife to police. “He just remained quiet unless spoken to.”
The criminal charges read Wednesday in court give a time range of Aug. 23 to Nov. 23 for some of the crimes that allegedly occurred. Modesitt said that as the investigation continues and more evidence is collected, that time frame may be amended.
“It appears it’s been ongoing for quite some time, at least six months,” Chesshir said of the withholding of food from the teen.
Modesitt said investigators are trying to determine when the alleged crimes against the children began. Interviews with the children were scheduled for Wednesday, police said, and the investigation will continue as police talk to more people who may have had contact with the family.
The family had moved into their present home on 12th Street in the spring, police report.
The 12th and 13th criminal counts filed against Nikki Russell — battery by bodily waste — stem from allegations that she poured urine from a bottle on two of the boys while they were in the bathtub. One child told police that the boys urinated into a bottle in their bedroom because they had no access to the bathroom.
Police were also told that one of the boys had a diaper-like garment duct taped to him at night by Nikki Russell as punishment.
The 14th criminal count against Nikki Russell — battery resulting in bodily injury — stems from the allegation that on Nov. 22, she “backhanded” one of the boys in the face, causing his nose to bleed. Police reported that dried blood was found on the boy’s face and pooled in his ear when he was examined at the hospital on Nov. 23.
History of the couple
Modesitt said Wednesday that he had not yet received information on how long the Russells have been married.
The domestic violence incident in May resulted in Larry Russell’s arrest after police responded to the home. Officers found a .22-caliber handgun that Russell said was his, but he denied shooting the gun or putting his hands on Nikki.
She told police, however, that she and her husband had argued and he shoved her in the chest while she was sitting in a rocking chair, causing the chair to flip over. She sustained scratches to her back.
In a letter that Nikki Russell wrote to Division 4 court in June after the domestic violence charge was filed, she asked Judge Christopher Newton to drop the criminal charge so that Larry could return home to his family.
Her handwritten letter stated that she and Larry had been “together 17 years” and that they had five children between them and two grandchildren. She also said that she regretted the incident that occurred in May, and she called Larry “the backbone of our family.”
On July 9, a no-contact order in the case was vacated.
The domestic battery case was deferred by court agreement in September, with possible dismissal set for next year.
Larry Russell had also had a prior arrest for battery resulting in bodily injury filed in June 1996, court records show. That case was also deferred in December 1996. It was dismissed in May 2000.
Back in court
Larry Russell is next scheduled to appear in court on Monday when he meets with his public defender, Mike Ellis.
Nikki Russell will return to court Dec. 7 for a hearing with public defender Vernon Lorenz.
During Wednesday’s court hearing, Russell asked Judge Lewis to be released so he can continue to work at a Terre Haute printing company.
Chief Deputy Prosecutor Rob Roberts objected to that request.
“Since I anticipate additional charges being filed beyond this, there is no way the state will agree” to his release, Roberts said.
The judge denied the bond reduction request.
Reporter Lisa Trigg can be reached at (812) 231-4254 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @TribStarLisa.