By Jamie Biggs
ASHEBORO — The jury in the Michael Isaac Russ murder trial began deliberations late Friday afternoon, after hearing closing arguments from the defense and prosecution, and receiving instructions by Superior Court Judge Brad Long.
Russ, 40, of 4511 Colonial Circle, Trinity, is charged with murdering Larry Wayne Campbell, 27, of Denton, on Dec. 22, 2017.
Campbell, a father of three, was shot and killed in a parking lot outside BBQ Joe’s Country Cooking, 4873 NC 62, Trinity.
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On Thursday, the jury listened to testimony from the defendant himself. Russ, who has worn a suit throughout the entire trial, left the courtroom Thursday prior to the arrival of the jurors and returned having changed into a red flannel shirt and blue jeans — the clothes he was wearing when he encountered and shot Campbell at BBQ Joe’s.
His attorney, Thomas Manning, who retrieved the clothes from the custody of the Randolph County Jail last week, confirmed the clothes had been searched for contraband.
Manning also requested that during Russ’ testimony, Russ be able to maneuver his unloaded .45-caliber pistol to demonstrate the action he took during the shooting.
“With this many Hells Angels here, I’ve got concerns,” said King Dozier, who along with Assistant District Attorney Walt Jones, is prosecuting the case.
With the case turned over to the defense, the number of occupants in the courtroom Thursday nearly doubled in comparison to previous days.
The defense agreed that Russ would use a plastic gun to illustrate his testimony instead.
Before the jury entered the courtroom, Judge Long addressed the defendant:
“Mr. Russ, you’ve considered all of the things we discussed yesterday … and you intend to testify?”
Russ confirmed that he understood and still wished to testify.
Through questioning from Manning, a picture was painted of the defendant’s upbringing and life before Dec. 22, 2017.
Russ’ parents split up when he was a year old. He stayed with his mother in Vermont, but when his dad moved to North Carolina, he would visit him there in the summer.
Growing up, he became interested in motorcycles which became a huge part of his life early on: “My dad had me riding with him since I was maybe 1 of 2.”
When his mother took a job out of state when Russ was a teenager, Russ lived with his aunt and uncle while finishing high school. Directly after his graduation, he joined the U.S. Marines.
Russ testified that part of the reason he joined the Marines was because he felt he “wasn’t ready for college,” but added that he has “always been patriotic.”
Manning introduced a series of documents that illustrated Russ’ achievements from his time in the Marines, including completion of course work and promotions. After approximately eight years of active and inactive duty, Russ was honorably discharged in 2004. He briefly lived in California before moving to North Carolina.
In the years that followed, Russ found work through electrical jobs — he was a maintenance electrician, a plant engineer and instructed courses at Davidson County Community College.
When his first son was born, he worked in High Point as a plant engineer before taking a job at Technimark. He worked one more job before leaving in October of 2017 and starting his own company — Mike Russ Engineering.
Throughout this time, he was busy, but he still made time for motorcycles.
Through a fellow Marines friend, he met a few Hells Angels. Russ testified that he was surprised after interacting with them.
“It wasn’t the stereotype I had heard. It was more like family.”
Shortly after, he joined the Red Devils Motorcycle Club around 2011.
“I was with them about a year and a half as a full member.”
Through the club, he met more members of Hells Angels. After 15 months of “prospecting” — hanging out with and riding with the members of the club — Russ became a member of the Hells Angels Winston-Salem charter.
Russ attended Hells Angels functions with the Richmond, Va. charter. There, he met and became friends with another Hells Angels member, Jordan.
On Dec. 22, 2017, Russ testified that he had plans to drive to Virginia that evening to meet Jordan who needed help with some equipment.
That day, Russ attended meetings with clients before returning home to pack. He gathered his tools and supplies, but also his guns — a pistol, a rifle and a shotgun. According to Russ, the two liked to shoot targets together, and Russ also packed a stack of scorekeeper targets.
Manning questioned some of the other items packed in Russ’ truck that the prosecution had addressed while presenting evidence.
Russ stated that the whip in his truck was given to him a few days prior at a funeral by a Hells Angels member. Later, Russ likened trying to crack a whip to shooting pool at a party — just a fun activity for members to do while hanging out.
Hammers located in the vehicle were also addressed. A common symbol of Hells Angels, the hammers were going to be used by Russ to make a plaque for a fellow member with two mounted on it.
Next, Manning asked Russ to explain his perspective of the shooting and the events surrounding it.
Russ claimed he was leaving his home to head straight to visit his buddy in Virginia.
“I got in the truck, started it up and backed down the driveway to Colonial Circle.”
When he got to the stop sign at the road, he waited for traffic to turn onto NC 62. Two motorcyclists rode by, and then Russ turned, following behind the two. He stated he maintained two to three car lengths of space between them.
He saw patches on the backs of their vests, but said he couldn’t make out what they were or what they said.
Russ said he decided, “I’ve got a couple of minutes. I’m going to stop and introduce myself… see what’s going on.”
Later in his testimony, Russ added that it’s customary in the motorcycle club world to stop and introduce yourself to fellow club members.
When he followed them into the parking lot, Russ said he rolled down his window and asked, “Are you boys from Davidson County?”
Russ testified that Campbell, sounding “pissed,” said, “Why the f*** I gotta be from Davidson County?”
At that time, Russ told the jury that he got out of his truck, slipping his pistol that was resting on the center console into the waistband of his pants. When he rounded the truck, he stated he saw Campbell reaching into his vest, and then he was pointing a gun at him.
“I was like ’Oh, God.” And I pulled my pistol and I shot.”
After two shots, Russ said he saw Campbell was still pointing his gun at him, so he continued, but then quickly left, fearing for his own safety.
As it happened, Russ claimed that his first thought when he saw Campbell’s gun was “He’s going to kill me. I’m getting ready to die.”
“I put the truck in gear and I got out of there.”
Russ added, “I’m sorry he’s not here, but it was either him or me.”
Manning allowed Russ to demonstrate how quickly he reacted with the fake pistol.
“How fast did you shoot?” Manning asked.
“Instantaneously. As soon as I had it up.”
Russ was pulled over by an NC Highway Patrol trooper minutes after the shooting. He testified that he didn’t know what to do when he left, but that he knew he was trying to get home.
“I just knew that there was a quick confrontation, I shot and I left.”
Dozier had the opportunity to question the defendant following Manning.
After thanking Russ for his service to the country as a Marine, Dozier asked Russ if he stopped everyone who drove by his house on a bike.
“No. I wasn’t planning on getting them to stop,” Russ said, adding that he only went to talk to them because they happened to pull into the parking lot of BBQ Joe’s. He stated that he didn’t know they were Iron Patriots until he pulled in behind them.
The prosecution also used their cross-examination to play audio recordings of phone calls Russ took while at the Randolph County Jail, in which he can be heard mentioning the idea of “territory.”
In another call, a Hells Angels member suggests to Russ that the police have arrested “the wrong person,” and Russ is heard being agreeable.
In a third call played to the jury, Russ mentions that you can’t really tell it’s him in the video of the shooting. In court, Russ explained that he was simply referring to how poor the video quality was.
Dozier asked Russ if the Iron Patriots’ bottom rocker — North Carolina — bothered him.
“There are literally probably thousands of clubs in North Carolina with that bottom rocker,” Russ responded. He added that claiming territory did not bother him.
When asked if he knew of the Iron Patriots before he shot Campbell, Russ stated that he had heard members of the Hells Angels mention that they knew and had been hanging out with a few Iron Patriots.
Russ, who was the secretary for the Winston-Salem charter of the Hells Angels, shared that the note in his journal that contained the words “Iron Pats” was likely a note taken at a club meeting.
Dozier also brought up the methamphetamine that was located in Russ’ truck following his arrest. Russ claimed he didn’t do the drugs and never bought them. Dozier suggested Russ appeared like he might have been under the influence in his mug shot.
“I was pretty upset because I just got charged with murder. And I didn’t know anyone was dead up until a couple of minutes before that photo.”
Though he claimed he was upset, Russ stated, “I had no other choice. … it was live or did. I don’t know how else to put it.”
The prosecution questioned why Russ brought the pistol out of the truck in the first place.
“You don’t leave a loaded firearm sitting there unsecured.”
Russ was also asked why he didn’t call the police, or tell the trooper who stopped him minutes after the shooting what just happened.
“I was waiting for someone to tell me what happened. … I was confused and scared. Somebody had tried to kill me.”
“The truth of the matter was you were trying to get away?” Dozier asked.
“From being shot, yes,” Russ responded. “I was trying to get home.”
In earlier evidence provided by the state, testimony revealed that Russ’ phone was wiped clean and restored to factory settings when the Randolph County Sheriff’s Office attempted to gain access to it. A phone call was played to the jury in which Russ and his girlfriend discuss the phone.
Russ contends that they were only talking about backing it up and shutting it off, not wiping the phone clean.
During the hours that the defendant testified, the jury stayed alert and kept their attention on Russ.
The next and final witness for the defense was Robert Spillman, a private detective formerly with the Winston-Salem Police Department.
Spillman testified that he interviewed Roy Pruitt — Campbell’s close friend who witnessed the shooting — in May of 2018.
According to Spillman, he and Pruitt sat and talked freely about the shooting. Afterwards, Pruitt had him explain a second time and he wrote down a statement, which he then had Pruitt read and sign.
Spillman read the statement aloud to the jury. In addition to a line in which Pruitt refers to Campbell as a “hothead,” Pruitt also stated:
“I can’t say who shot first… but I did see both of them with guns.”
Spillman also testified that during his investigation into the shooting, he spoke with six Iron Patriots members and two Hells Angels.
Following Spillman’s testimony, the defense published a series of exhibits — including documents and photos — to the jury. After each juror had the chance to review them, the defense attorneys, which included Allen Swaim, rested their case.
On Friday, the trial resumed with closing arguments and charge instructions for the jury before Judge Long sent them into deliberations.