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Marine Sentenced to Life in Murder Case Pegged to Computer Evidence

August 2, 1991

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) _ Former Marine Capt. Robert P. Russell was sentenced on Friday to life in prison, without possibility of parole, for murdering his wife - a Marine captain whose body has never been found.

Russell’s conviction in U.S. District Court on May 3 was pegged to a computer disk which prosecutors said laid out the plot to kill Shirley Gibbs Russell, who was 29 when she disappeared from the couple’s quarters at nearby Quantico Marine base in March 1989.

″I’ve always been a God-fearing person,″ Robert Russell, 34, told Judge James C. Cacheris on Friday. ″I’ve never hurt a human being. I am innocent of this charge.″

He said the case was a ″theoretical puzzle solving nothing.″

Russell had petitioned Cacheris to decline to impose the mandatory life- without-parole sentence on the first-degree murder conviction. But Cacheris said that even if he had the discretion to lessen the sentence, he wouldn’t do so.

The centerpiece of the case was a computer disk, labeled ″Murder″ which a Marine sergeant major discovered while cleaning out Russell’s office after he had been relieved of duty in February 1988 - more than a year before his wife disappeared. Russell resigned from the service in 1988 amid charges of misconduct.

Sgt. Maj. William Joseph Kane testified that a day after he found the computer disk and read its contents, he called Shirley Russell and told her what he had found. ″I told her if I was you, I’d be careful,″ he said. ″I’d watch out for myself.″

The defendant testified the material was part of a mystery novel he was writing. The prosecution called it his ″recipe for murder,″ and said he went on to shoot his wife behind the ear at the couple’s base quarters, then disposed of her body in a northeastern Pennsylvlania coal mine.

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