A 29-year-old Burien man pleaded not guilty Monday morning to two counts of first-degree murder in connection with the fatal shooting of two men Aug. 20 at a Kent gas station.
Leland Russell Jr., whose bail was initially set at $2 million following his arrest, is being held without bail after Senior Deputy Prosecutor Jessica Berliner successfully argued that a constitutional amendment passed by voters in 2010 applied to his case. She wrote in charging documents that Russell “brazenly executed two people for little or no provocation,” deliberately shooting both victims “multiple times from close range” before fleeing the scene and attempting to conceal or destroy evidence.
In convicted, Russell faces a sentence of 50 to 63 years in prison, according to prosecutors. His next court hearing is scheduled for Sept. 22 at the Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent.
Killed in the shooting were gas station employees David Christianson and Carlos Gonzales. Both were fatally shot at the Shell station at 6331 S. 212th St. in Kent.
Kent police say Leland and a friend argued with others at the gas station, and the unidentified man shoved Gonzales before Russell ran back to his car, grabbed his gun and shot both Christianson and Gonzales, charging papers say. A second suspect has not been arrested.
Russell apparently told investigators a group of construction workers had made racial slurs against him and 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,” Berliner wrote in charging papers.
Berliner also wrote in the papers that Russell — who is 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,” killing the two men because of his “inexplicable desire to act like a ‘gangster.’”