Jury deliberates in murder trial

April 10, 2008|By Melissa Harris | Melissa Harris,Sun reporter

Charles County authorities found the lower half of Donald Russell's body burning in a plastic container under concrete May 3, 2006.

Finding his top half required the help of the accused killer's girlfriend, who led authorities three days later to a field in Prince George's County, where an identical container was discovered.

Yesterday, Baltimore jurors began deliberating on a particularly gruesome murder case. In closing arguments, prosecutor Josh Felsen said Octavius Savage, 22, and his then-girlfriend methodically plotted to bind, gag, rob and drown their roommate before cutting him in half, boxing up his remains and burying him in the two counties.

The former girlfriend, Tiffany Natasha Brown, 22, of Baltimore pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, according to court records.

Under the deal with prosecutors, she agreed to testify at Savage's trial and receive a sentence of 15 to 20 years in prison. In addition to killing Russell, prosecutors said his bank card, cash and marijuana were stolen.

Brown testified that she watched as Savage plunged the 64-year-old man's head into the second-floor bathtub of the house they shared in the 1400 block of N. Dukeland St., Felsen said.

The day after the drowning, Brown said she and Savage drove the victim's Chevy Blazer to a Wal-Mart in Catonsville, where they purchased $695 worth of tools that prosecutors said were used to dismember and store the victim, including large plastic storage bins and garden shears. They then drove to a Home Depot to pick up the concrete, Felsen said.

A state medical examiner said Russell's fingers were cut off, presumably to prevent identification, and he was cut in half. The suspect used gloves, a plastic tarp and bleach to erase evidence, Felsen said.

During the next few days, the body was placed in the two bins. The only mistake, it appears, was setting fire to the bin in Charles County. There, authorities responding to a brush fire discovered the remains before they were severely charred, the Charles County Sheriff's Office has said.

Defense attorney Catherine Flynn argued that it was Brown, not Savage, who deserved to be on trial for first-degree murder.

"A speeding train ran right into Mr. Savage, and the conductor of that train was Tiffany Brown," Flynn said. "... She gave an Academy Award-winning performance" to police.

The motive for the fight was unclear. Felsen said that earlier on April 30 -- the day of the killing -- Russell had argued with Savage and Brown over letting the dogs out of the house. Brown told Baltimore police that after the argument, Savage told her that he was "fed up" and "done" with Russell.

melissa.harris@baltsun.com

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