Crime

Daughters of murder victim hurt by Gov. Brown’s parole decision

David Russo was a 43-year-old Lemoore Naval Air Station jet mechanic instructor when he was shot and killed in July 1994 during what jurors agreed was a murder-for-hire plot involving his wife. Susan Russo received life without the possibility of a parole but saw that sentence commuted to 25 to life Saturday, April 15, 2017, by Gov. Jerry Brown, giving her a chance to appear before the Board of Parole Hearings.
David Russo was a 43-year-old Lemoore Naval Air Station jet mechanic instructor when he was shot and killed in July 1994 during what jurors agreed was a murder-for-hire plot involving his wife. Susan Russo received life without the possibility of a parole but saw that sentence commuted to 25 to life Saturday, April 15, 2017, by Gov. Jerry Brown, giving her a chance to appear before the Board of Parole Hearings. THE FRESNO BEE

Dismay filled the hearts of David Russo’s daughters when they learned through a news report Saturday that Gov. Jerry Brown had granted a chance for parole to Susan Russo, who is serving a life sentence for the murder-for-hire killing of their father.

Devin Russo, youngest daughter of David and Susan Russo, said Sunday she is shocked that the governor’s office did not contact her or other family members prior to his decision to change Susan Russo’s sentence from life without possibility of parole to life with possibility of parole, which will allow her to plead her case before the Board of Parole Hearings.

“The consideration of commutation is a solemn responsibility that is never taken lightly. The voices of victims and their families are profoundly important in every case the governor reviews,” said Evan Westrup, a spokesman for Brown. “These voices are also an integral part of the parole consideration process, in which they have an opportunity to be present and to be heard.”

On Saturday Brown decided to pardon 72 inmates and commute sentences of seven others, most of who were guilty of low-level offenses.

The Fresno County District Attorney’s office Monday said it would oppose parole for Russo. “The Fresno County District Attorney’s Office has previously urged the governor to deny this extraordinary relief, and the office will be opposing her release back into the community at her upcoming parole hearing.” the office said in a statement.

The district attorney’s office also noted that Russo’s conviction was upheld by the appellate court and the California Supreme Court.

In his commutation of sentence letter, Brown stated that Russo has worked to overcome a life of violence and drugs. She has completed college-level courses, a vocational training program in upholstery and even participated in Narcotics Anonymous among many things during her sentence. Brown’s letter also noted that Russo is seriously ill.

But Russo’s murder case was far from low-level, her daughter said. Devin Russo said she was dumbfounded that Brown would grant her mother a chance at parole even though she was convicted in a murder plot that killed a government official. At the time of his death, David Russo was a Lemoore Naval Air Station jet mechanic instructor.

Russo wrote in her application for sentence commutation that she was physically abused by her husband and both had abused methamphetamine. Devin Russo however, says this is a lie. “My dad was not a drug addict,” she said.

Devin Russo, who was 2 years old when the murder occurred, agreed that her father was a mean man, but she said he was not abusive and didn’t use drugs. She said claiming her father used drugs is a tactic her mother uses to make herself look like a victim. “She’s a master manipulator,” Devin Russo said.

Devin Russo and her older sister, Jamie, 12, were asleep in their Riverdale home when their dad was shot in the head in an adjacent room in July 1994. Susan Russo was convicted on Jan. 30, 1996 of first-degree murder and of conspiring with Jason Wesly Andrews and Bobby Leon Morris. Prosecutors maintained that Russo hired Andrews and Morris to kill her husband so she could collect $1 million in insurance money and buy a new home.

With support of family members, the daughters plan to ask the community to sign a petition asking Brown to rescind his decision. They want to submit it to the governor’s office by mid-week.

Beth Whitaker, eldest sister of Devin and Jamie, said they don’t know what legal actions they can take, but filing a petition is a start.

Andrea Figueroa Briseño: 559-441-6074, @_AndreaBriseno

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