Murder charges in Kent gas-station killings
A 29-year-old Burien man was charged Monday with two counts of first-degree murder in connection with the fatal shooting of two men Wednesday at a Kent gas station.
Seattle Times staff reporter
After a buddy ran out of gas on the side of the road and called for help Wednesday morning, Leland Russell Jr. went to fill a gas can at a Shell Station in Kent — and fatally shot two employees at close range, according to police and prosecutors.
The 29-year-old Burien man was charged Monday with two counts of first-degree murder and is being held without bail in the King County Jail.
Russell — who is also alleged to have threatened a female driver with a gun less than two hours before the fatal shooting — was “intent on creating a situation where he could use his gun,” King County Senior Deputy Prosecutor Jessica Berliner wrote in charging documents. Berliner alleges Russell killed the two men because of his “inexplicable desire to act like a ‘gangster.’ ”
Kent police are still working to identify a man who was with Russell and started a fight with one of the employees, Detective Melanie Frazier said Monday. The man is identified in charging papers by his street name, “Sacramento” or “Sac.”
According to the charging documents, Russell told detectives the two victims “finally came across some real gangsters, sad to say.”
Russell was initially ordered held on $2 million bail after his arrest Thursday about three blocks from the house he rents from his father and shares with his wife, charging papers say.
But Berliner successfully argued for him to be held without bail, citing a constitutional amendment passed by Washington voters in 2010 that allows judges to deny bail to defendants facing the possibility of life in prison.
The amendment, overwhelmingly approved by voters after the 2009 killings of four Lakewood police officers in Pierce County, applies in Russell’s case because there is “clear and convincing evidence” of his propensity for violence, which creates “a substantial likelihood of danger to the community,” the papers say.
Berliner wrote in charging documents that Russell “brazenly executed two people for little or no provocation” before fleeing and attempting to conceal or destroy evidence.
Killed were David Christianson and Carlos Gonzales, employees at the Shell station at 6331 S. 212th St. in Kent, just after 8:30 a.m. Wednesday.
Russell allegedly told investigators a group of construction workers had directed racial slurs at his friend, prompting the shooting, but Berliner wrote in charging documents that witnesses did not corroborate his account:
“Although the defendant later attempted to justify his behavior by claiming that someone else instigated the confrontation by using racial epithets, numerous witnesses at the scene indicate the defendant and his friend were rude, provocative, and combative towards customers and Shell Station employees for several minutes before they were told to leave by the victims — unarmed, store employees,” she wrote.
Surveillance footage shows Russell and his passenger arriving at the Shell Station at 8:20 a.m., entering the store and appearing to pay for some gas, the papers say. They then positioned their black Cadillac at the gas pump, and several minutes later repositioned the vehicle “at a perpendicular angle” to the pump, according to the charges.
After exchanging “angry words” with customers and an employee inside the store, Russell and his passenger began walking toward their car, but the passenger then walked back and shoved Gonzales, starting a fight, charging papers say. Christianson tried to break up the fight as Russell ran to his vehicle and returned with a gun, according to the papers.
Police say Russell initially denied being involved in the shooting, but after he was confronted with video surveillance from the gas station, Russell directed detectives to a house about two blocks south of his house where “he ditched the gun,” the charges say.
A search warrant was served and officers found a disassembled, .40-caliber Smith & Wesson handgun hidden in the bedroom closet, along with three prescription pill bottles with Russell’s name on them, the charges say.
Police also found a pistol case bearing the same serial number as the recovered handgun in Russell’s Burien house. They found his Cadillac parked in the garage, according to the charges.
According to the charging documents, a female driver later told police she had a frightening encounter with Russell about 90 minutes before the shooting. After she honked at Russell, he got out of his vehicle and chased her as she backed up, pointing a gun at her as she frantically drove away.
The incident is under investigation, but charging papers do not indicate where it occurred or why investigators believe Russell was the perpetrator.
Sara Jean Green: 206-515-5654 or firstname.lastname@example.org