CARLSBAD — A 31-year-old man convicted of murder stemming from a fatal collision and burglary two years ago received 26 years to life in prison at his sentencing Dec. 18 in a San Diego Superior Court.
Moments before a remorseful Karl Russell received his sentence, he told the court he didn’t feel like a murderer and therefore believed a life sentence would be “a little harsh,” but he would accept his punishment.
Russell said his addiction to drugs and alcohol contributed to the series of bad choices he made, which resulted in the early morning death of Rodrigo Vega on Sept. 5, 2006. The 38-year-old father of four was killed when Russell collided into his vehicle traveling around 65 mph. Vega was on his way to work at the Callaway Golf Company on Rutherford Road in Carlsbad.
“I’m truly, truly sorry for this tragedy,” Russell said.
However Russell’s sincerity was brought into question by prosecutor Richard Madruga.
Madruga said Russell made statements to authorities in the months leading up to the sentencing that were far from remorseful. Expressing sentiments about not being a “true murderer” and telling authorities he was set up by the justice system show he hasn’t fully grasped the gravity of his actions or the devastation he has caused the Vega family, the lawyer said.
“He is a murderer!” Madruga told the judge.
Regardless of his statements, Danielsen said his sentence would reflect what Russell did and not what he said along the way. And with that, the judge sentenced Russell to what the law prescribes for murder, 25 years to life. Additionally, one year was added to the sentence for the allegation that Russell’s stolen vehicle was a deadly weapon, the judge said.
Danielsen found Russell guilty in June of murder, burglary, vehicle theft and causing a death while evading police. Russell waived his right to a jury trial and opted for a bench trial. During a bench trial, the proceedings are the same as jury trial except that a judge decides the verdict.
The charges stemmed from an Oceanside burglary that, after some “cruising” and a police pursuit, ended with the fatal vehicle accident at the intersection of El Camino Real and Plaza Drive. Russell had a blood alcohol level of .13 at the time of the incident.
Russell filed a motion that his attorney breached his duties in relation to the bench trial and that he should be afforded a new hearing with a jury. However, Danielsen denied his motion citing that he didn’t find the request credible, but instead believed Russell was remorseful for his decision because the outcome of the trial wasn’t in his favor.