MORRISON – It’s a killing that’s left many people wondering how a longtime professional boxer could be felled by a 5-foot-5, 135-pound slip of a woman.
After throwing – and landing – several punches, Tracy Russell was stabbed four times with a steak knife by an angry Nichole Elsesser, who, even though they were best friends, was the recipient of some Russell’s blows.
The wound to his thigh was the fatal one, and Russell bled to death on the porch as the people at the house that day, including his attacker and purported best friend, drove away.
Later, Elsesser would tell investigators that she thought she stabbed Russell with a pencil, and that she wanted to help him after wounding him.
That’s according to testimony by Whiteside County Sheriff’s Detective Rob Luyando at a hearing this week where it was determined there was probable cause to charge the Rock Falls woman with Russell’s Dec. 14 death.
Elsesser, 45, is in Whiteside County Jail on $1 million bond, charged with one count each of first- and second-degree murder; she faces 30 to 60 years, up to life in prison. Her attorney is Michael Jarrad of the Jarrad Law Group of Chicago.
According to Luyando’s testimony Monday, which was based in large part on the interviews of seven people on the scene at the time, as well as evidence found:
Elsesser, Russell and William Bushman, who lives at the house at 22584 Brooks Road in Rock Falls, were drinking off and on all that Saturday at the house along the river. At one point, Elsesser left to return the borrowed vehicle she drove there; later, Russell and Bushman went to her house to pick her up and bring her back.
They also brought three young men to the home: David Cross, 20, who, according to his Facebook page, lives in Rock Falls but attended Polo High School, another man about his age, and a 16- or 17-year-old boy. Two other men were asleep inside the home that night.
Bushman thought Elsesser and Russell were in a relationship, but Cross was identified by at least one witness as Elsesser’s boyfriend.
Cross and Russell exchanged harsh words on the ride back to Bushman’s, and once there, Russell and Elsesser got into an argument.
Russell punched Elsesser several times in the back of the head. Cross intervened, yelling at Russell to stop hitting her, and Russell punched him in the chest.
Elsesser pushed Cross out of the way, yelled at Russell “You don’t hit the kids,” and “I’m going to kill you, [expletive].”
She grabbed the knife and stabbed him from behind, in his back shoulder. She came around, he swung at her, and she stabbed him in abdomen below his rib cage; she also stabbed him in his right upper arm and his left thigh, which was the fatal wound.
She pushed him and he fell over.
Bushman, who saw Elsesser and Russell arguing and Russell fall, then hustled Elsesser and the three young men into his Chrysler 200 to take them home.
Elsesser asked him to stop the vehicle and go back “because she had stabbed Tracy and he was dying.” Bushman kept driving.
He did not call 911 until he returned home an hour later and found Russell dead on his porch. Deputies arrived about 1:30 a.m. Dec. 15.
Bushman told them he saw Russell fall, but didn’t know he was injured, Luyando testified.
Under questioning from State’s Attorney Terry Costello, Luyando noted that at least 2 or 3 minutes elapsed between the time Russell last hit Elsesser and the stabbing.
Under defense attorney Jarrad’s questioning, Luyando agreed that Elsesser was “the initial victim,” and that Russell threw the first of several punches.
“The evidence was he had used his deadly weapons on multiple people,” Jarrad told Associate Judge James F. Heuerman, adding that Elsesser’s attempt to get Bushman to stop and help Russell “is not indicative of someone who commits first-degree murder.”
Russell, 53, was a former professional boxer and a member of the legendary local Jon Russell boxing family.
Elsesser has a pretrial conference Jan. 29.
First-degree murder vs. second-degree
Intent, or lack thereof, is a key element that must be proved to be convicted of murder.
To be convicted, the state must prove that the defendant intended to kill or do great bodily harm to another, knowing that act would cause death, and without lawful justification. Premeditation is not a factor. The term is 20 years to life, and the full sentence must be served.
For jurors to find a defendant guilty of second-degree murder– which used to be called voluntary manslaughter – the prosecution must prove all the elements of first-degree murder, then jurors must agree that the defendant believed he or she was justified, but that belief was unreasonable.
Second-degree murder carries the possibility of 4 to 20 years in prison, or even probation. If the defendant is sentenced to prison time, he or she can get day-for-day credit.