Even after his death in what might have been a gang-fueled killing, Paul Russell Jr.’s father said his son would want to see God save his killers’ souls.
“I believe that no matter what it is, no matter if it’s gang-related, that God can still get through and can still save them,” Paul Russell Sr. said in court Friday. “I believe that that’s what Paul would want.”
Russell Sr. was referencing Mykle Blumenshine and Lyle Croson, who sat in court Friday awaiting sentencing in the 30-year-old’s death.
Ada County District Judge Steven Hippler described the murder of Russell as senseless, meaningless, foolish and childish, sentencing both of the men to life in prison.
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In October 2016, Russell, 30, was shot in the head by Blumenshine in Garden City.
Blumenshine, 29, of Nampa, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. He could be eligible for parole after 18 years.
Croson, 35, also of Nampa, was with Blumenshine at the scene and fired his weapon in the air, striking a nearby building. He could be eligible for parole after 15 years after pleading guilty to aiding and abetting second-degree murder.
Most of Friday’s hearing revolved around whether the events leading up to Russell’s shooting were motivated by gang retaliation.
Russell had no gang or criminal connections and was at the scene only because he was picking up a friend. He was unarmed, and shots suddenly were fired in his direction.
Ada County Deputy Prosecutor Shelley Akamatsu outlined that Croson is a member of the street and prison gang known as Severely Violent Criminals, or SVC. It is a gang that started in prisons, working as enforcers for the Arian Knights, and is known for committing violent acts and being active in the drug trade, according to Boise Police Detective Brian Holland, who testified Friday.
Holland testified that Croson is a documented member of the gang and that law enforcement believes Blumenshine was a “prospect,” meaning he was being recruited. To join the gang, a prospect usually must commit a violent act, Holland said in court.
Holland said Elena Pena, 27, is affiliated with the gang because of drug connections and was in a relationship with Croson, but she is not a gang member. SVC does not have female members. Pena was reportedly arguing with another man, Russell’s friend, and called Croson and Blumenshine for help that night.
Akamuatsu said Croson and Blumenshine were cellmates when they were both in prison.
Blumenshine has denied any gang involvement and Croson denied being in a relationship with Pena. Croson acknowledged being a gang member but said the events on the night of Russell’s death were not gang motivated. He maintained that they were there only to pick up his friend, Pena.
Akamatsu said Blumenshine initially said he purchased his weapon from Marco Romero, the man suspected of shooting two Boise Police officers and killing a police K9 last year before officers returned fire, killing him.
The suspect later denied buying it from Romero.
Russell went to the scene to pick up the man arguing with Pena because he thought his friend might be in trouble, according to police.
Akamatsu said that Russell’s friend was a member of a gang that is Croson’s rival, and he challenged Croson by showing what gang members refer to as “disrespect.”
Defense attorneys argued that Croson and Blumenshine did not go to the scene, near West 39th and Stockton streets, with the intent to commit a violent act.
Croson said prior to sentencing that he felt threatened by Russell’s friend.
“I raised my firearm and fired a warning shot,” he told the judge. “I did not go down there to kill someone. I did not go down there to commit an act of violence.”
Both Croson and Blumenshine have multiple prior felony convictions, as well as probation and parole violations. They are forbidden from owning firearms because they are convicted felons.
Blumenshine and Croson apologized to the Russell family before sentencing.
“Mr. Russell did nothing but show up and be standing in the wrong place at the wrong time, and some other set of actors and forces set into play caused Mr. Blumenshine to point his gun in that direction and open fire,” Hippler said before announcing his sentence.
The judge said it just as easily could have been Croson’s gun that fired the fatal shot that night.
Pena is set for sentencing Monday for her role in the death. She pleaded guilty to being accessory to a felony after agreeing to testify against Blumenshine and Croson.