A jury in August 2016 convicted 29-year-old Christopher E. Russell of second-degree murder and aggravated child abuse in the June 2012 death of his 3-month-old son, Colin Eugene Russell. He was sentenced in October 2016.
Russell filed an appeal contending evidence was insufficient for his convictions, trial Circuit Court Judge Thomas W. Graham erred in denying Russell's motion to continue the trial and erred in the denial of a motion for a new trial based on newly discovered evidence, and that the sentence Graham handed down was excessive, according to appellate court documents.
Appellate court justices disagreed and denied the appeal.
Russell was named a person of interest early in the investigation that began June 17, 2012, when 3-month-old Colin stopped breathing at his Sequatchie, Tennessee, home. The baby was taken to what was then-Grandview Medical Center in Jasper, then transferred to Vanderbilt Medical Center in Nashville.
Prosecutors and investigators traveled to Vanderbilt to interview the doctor who treated Colin before the baby died June 23, 2012, after the family decided to discontinue life support. Russell wasn't charged until August 2014 when he was arrested on a fugitive-from-justice warrant in Whitfield County, Georgia.
After a three-day trial in 2016, jurors reached a guilty verdict after a little less than two hours of deliberation. Testimony came from investigators, the baby's mother, Leah Collins, other family members and medical officials. Russell chose not to testify.
A 12-page autopsy report by associate medical examiner Dr. Bridget B. Eutenier, who also testified in the trial, listed the cause of death as homicide. The report noted contusions on Colin's head, injuries that included blood clotting in several areas of his brain and "extensive" hemorrhaging in the optic nerves of both eyes.
Colin also had at least 15 fractured ribs and a fractured right clavicle. Officials also found a ligament injury on his spine that appeared to have been healing, the report states.
In his appeal, Russell claims there wasn't enough evidence to convict him, noting the baby had suffered earlier injuries, but the appeals court in its denial pointed to medical and witness testimony the jury heard that detailed the baby's injuries and some of Russell's actions and behavior prior to his son stopping breathing and in the days afterward, records state.
The appellate court also denied Russell's claim that Graham erred in denying a defense motion to delay the trial when about two weeks before the trial began, the state disclosed that a new witness — an inmate to whom Russell told details about the baby's injuries and how he got them — would testify.
In the appeal of Graham's denial of a motion for a new trial based on "newly-discovered" evidence that consisted of an inmate who was incarcerated with the state's new witness and could impeach him, appellate judges affirmed Graham's ruling that his testimony was "highly questionable at best and certainly not strong enough to have changed the jury's decision in light of all the other proof in the case," records state.
And in the appeal on his sentence, the appeals court upheld Russell's 25-year sentence, saying it falls within Graham's discretion and sentencing guidelines, records state.
Russell's attorney in the appeal, John H. Baker III, declined to comment Tuesday on the ruling.
Contact staff writer Ben Benton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton or at www.facebook.com/benbenton1.