CARLSBAD — A judge denied the request for a new trial by a man convicted of murder in connection with a fatal accident and burglary at a motions hearing Dec. 5. in a downtown San Diego Superior Court.
Karl Russell, 31, filed a motion that his attorney breached his duties by not advising him properly about waiving his right to a jury trial when he opted for a bench trial. During a bench trial, the proceedings are the same as jury trial except a judge decides the verdict.
In denying Russell’s motion, Judge David Danielsen said 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.
Danielsen found Russell guilty in June of murder, burglary, vehicle theft and causing a death while evading police. The charges stemmed from an Oceanside burglary that, after some “cruising” and a police pursuit, ended with a fatal vehicle accident at the intersection of El Camino Real and Plaza Drive around 4:50 a.m. Sept. 5, 2006.
Rodrigo Vega, 38, was killed when Russell slammed into his vehicle traveling close to 65 mph, according to police. Vega, a father of four, was on his way to work at the Callaway Golf Company on Rutherford Road in Carlsbad, authorities said. Russell had a blood alcohol level of .13, according to police.
About 15 minutes prior to the accident, Russell and another man burglarized an Oceanside residence approximately five miles from the fatal collision, police said. In between the two events, Russell testified he dropped off his co-conspirator at the Oceanside Pier and then went for a joy ride.
At the motion hearing, John Lee, Russell’s former attorney, testified he spoke to his client several times prior to the trial about opting for a bench trial due to limited defense options. Lee said their strategy was to prove that there was a break in the events between the burglary and the accident. If successful, the murder charge wouldn’t have been applicable, the veteran attorney said. Additionally, Lee said he felt that jurors wouldn’t be sympathetic toward his client because of his alcohol and drug-fueled lifestyle.
“Lee’s advice to waive the jury was credible, thoughtful and intelligent,” Danielsen said.
Russell’s sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 18. He faces 26 years to life in prison.
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