Defendant in beating death changes plea to guilty

An Aberdeen man changed his plea to guilty yesterday in connection with the drunken fight that led to the death of a 51-year-old Moclips man last February.

Charles B. Russell, 23, of Aberdeen, agreed to a charge of second-degree manslaughter in Grays Harbor County Superior Court after he had initially pleaded not guilty last March to first-degree manslaughter charges in the death of Richard Luce.

Investigators said Russell attacked Luce over a drunken insult on Feb. 13, beating Luce and leaving him to die overnight along Otis Avenue in Moclips.

Defense attorneys said the plea will likely result in a significantly lower prison sentence and save both the families of Russell and Luce the anguish of a lengthy trial.

“Obviously there was a fight and the focus of the trial would have been how it started,” said Scott Campbell, one of the defense attorneys.

Luce’s body was discovered about 12 hours after that fight in a ditch just down the road from the Moclips grocery store, court records stated.

Investigators then identified and located Russell at a home in Taholah with the help of witness descriptions and tips.

Court records stated Russell later acknowledged getting into an altercation with Luce.

Prosecutor Stew Menafee said he discussed the plea deal with Luce’s family, with several of the family members in court Friday, and they agreed with the decision.

“I feel sorry for both of your families and I want you to understand that,” Judge Gordon Godfrey said, with nearly a dozen friends and family members for Russell also present in the court.

In accepting the plea, the judge asked Russell: “Did you cause the death of Mr. Luce?”

“Yes sir,” Russell said.

He also asked Russell if he accepted responsibility for his “criminal negligence” and was no longer blaming the fight on alcohol.

“Yes sir,” Russell added.

Sentencing is set for June 18. Had he been found guilty of first-degree manslaughter, Russell could have faced a prison sentence of between 8 1/2 years to get 9 1/2 years, but faces a maximum of six years under the lower offense. Campbell said he expects Russell to 12-18 months, but the judge noted he is not bound by any deal at sentencing.