The Spokane man who proclaimed himself Azrael, the Archangel of Death, in a letter to a tribal police officer says the federal stalking charge against him should be dropped because his writings are protected by the First Amendment.
The attorney for Brent Russ, 33, argues in documents filed earlier this week the letters and phone messages exchanged with the neighbor and her husband illustrated his “world view beliefs,” his concern for a neighbor and run-of-the-mill legal correspondence.
“The First Amendment protects exactly this type of speech – speech that challenges conventional religious beliefs,” Russ’ attorney, Andrea George, contends. Russ also wrote about developing a “kill room” and described himself as the embodiment of God’s wrath.
A grand jury indictment details two letters and a phone message Russ left for the couple. In one of the letters, Russ addresses the woman as “Uriel,” a kindred spirit he has “known for 7,000 years,” according to a copy of the letter contained in court files.
The imagery in the letter reportedly matches that found in a journal obtained during a search of Russ’ southwest Spokane home, where federal agents also discovered a collection of modified weapons. Russ also wrote about wanting to develop a “kill room” and described himself as the embodiment of God’s wrath.
No charges have been filed against Russ based on the items found in his residence.
When Russ’ behavior prompted his neighbors to report him for mental illness, court documents say, he left them a letter promising to pursue lawsuits alleging defamation and personal injury from attacks by their dog, seeking $200,000 in damages. Russ was arrested shortly after he sent the letter.
George, executive director of the nonprofit Federal Defenders of Eastern Washington and Idaho, argued that the letter included legal paperwork that is routinely sent by attorneys. In addition, she asked that the federal stalking charge be dropped because neither the alleged victim nor Russ, not being members of a Native American tribe, met the “tribal jurisdiction” standard of the allegedly violated law.
Russ was ordered evaluated by a mental health professional last month. A federal judge will decide next week whether to dismiss the charge or proceed to a scheduled trial date later in January.