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Convicted Murderer Gets Life Without Parole

August 2, 1991

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) _ A former Marine Corps captain convicted of killing his missing wife was sentenced to life in prison without parole today.

U.S. District Judge James C. Cacheris said he followed federal guidelines in sentencing Robert P. Russell, 34, for the murder of his wife, Shirley Gibbs Russell, a Marine Corps captain who has been missing since March 1989.

Russell maintained his innocence to the judge.

″I’ve always been a God-fearing person,″ Russell said. ″I’ve never hurt a human being. I am innocent of this charge.″

In court documents, Russell asked for leniency. He said the judge should recognize his ″opportunity for self-redemption″ and decline to impose the mandatory sentence - life in prison without parole.

But Cacheris told Russell that even if he had the discretion to impose a lesser sentence, he wouldn’t do it.

Russell was convicted May 3 of first-degree murder.

The case marked the first time a federal murder charge has been brought against a defendant even though a body had not been recovered.

Russell resigned from the Marines in 1988 following allegations of misconduct and the discovery of a computer disk believed to contain an elaborate plot to kill his wife. Russell said the disk was the outline of a mystery novel he was writing.

During the trial, prosecutors said jealousy of Mrs. Russell, who was black, drove Russell, who is white, to shoot her behind the ear in the couple’s quarters at Quantico Marine Corps Base and dispose of her body in a northeastern Pennsylvania coal mine.

Defense attorneys said the government’s case was based solely on circumstantial evidence, and Mrs. Russell still may be alive.

In court papers, Assistant U.S. Attorney Lawrence J. Leiser also described Russell as a ″narcissistic personality.″

The judge has received a dozen letters from relatives and friends of Russell. They urge lenience and ask that Russell be placed in a correctional facility in Pennsylvania, where Russell’s family lives.

Cacheris said he would make that recommendation, but the final decision was up to federal prison authorities.

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