SHELL LAKE– A Washburn County jury has found Russell L. Wilson, 54, of Sarona guilty of repeatedly sexually assaulting a teenager over three months and then conspiring to murder the teen and her mother.
Following a three-day trial, it took the jury less than an hour and a half on March 24 to find Wilson guilty of engaging in repeated sexual assault of the same child, third-degree sexual assault, conspiracy to commit first-degree intentional homicide, and solicitation of first-degree intentional homicide.
Barron County Judge J.M. Bitney presided over the trial. Wilson faces the potential of 82.5 years of confinement, and the sentencing date has not been set yet. Wilson chose not to testify in his trial.
His conviction comes more than five years after he committed the crimes.
The sexual assault charges were levied against Wilson in November 2015, and he pleaded not guilty due to mental disease in April 2016. A jury trial was set for November, but he changed his plea to guilty that October.
In December 2016 he was sentenced to 40 years split between prison and extended supervision.
Wilson appealed, and in June 2020 the Court of Appeals reversed the conviction and the case returned to Washburn County Circuit Court. The Court of Appeals ruled that Wilson had been told that he faced life in prison without the possibility of being released, while the actual maximum was 25 years in prison and 15 years extended supervision.
In October a report on whether Wilson was competent to stand trial was completed, and he was deemed competent.
Meanwhile, at least a month before Wilson changed his plea in 2016, he allegedly tried to get a hitman to kill the teen and her mother. In November 2016 he was charged with conspiring to commit murder and solicitation of murder . He pleaded not guilty in December.
A series of heaings were held or scheduled over the intervening years, and trial dates were set in 2020 and then postponed. The sexual assault and murder charges were merged into one jury trial last December.
The plot to kill the teen and her mother took shape while Wilson was in the Washburn County Jail.
According to the criminal complaint, Wilson asked a fellow inmate at the time, Timothy Wallace, to burn down the teen’s home, with the teen inside, in exchange for two trucks and a tractor as payment, as Wallace would be out of jail soon.
More details on the plot can be found here.
Wilson is a lifetime registrant on the Wisconsin Department of Corrections Sex Offender Registry since February 2002. He was convicted of first-degree sexual assault of a child in Barron County in 1993. He was sentenced to a year in jail with five years in prison imposed and stayed, plus 10 years of probation.
“The people of Washburn County are now safer because the defendant has been convicted of these horrific crimes,” Wisconsin Attorney General Kaul said following the conviction. “Thank you to those at DOJ [Department of Justice], as well as those at the Washburn County Sheriff’s Office, the victim/witness programs of the Washburn and Sawyer County DA’s offices, whose work led to today’s verdict.”
Working together on the case were the Washburn County Sheriff’s Office and the DOJ's Division of Criminal Investigation. Washburn County District Attorney’s Office Victim/Witness Program provided victim witness services with trial assistance from the Sawyer County District Attorney’s Office Victim/Witness Program.
Assistant Attorney General Annie Jay tried the case with assistance from Paralegal Rochelle Ederer.