CASSOPOLIS — Dowagiac resident Rolandis Russell has admitted shooting into a group of people last summer outside a Dowagiac bar and killing Fabian Wesaw. Russell pleaded guilty Tuesday to second-degree murder in Cass County Circuit Court.
Russell, 25, of Pokagon Street in Dowagiac, had been scheduled to go on trial later this month on first-degree murder and other charges. Under the plea agreement worked out Tuesday, Russell will receive a minimum term of 43 years in prison.
The plea included the dismissal of the original first-degree murder count as well as charges of assault with intent to murder, carrying a weapon with unlawful intent, possession of a loaded firearm in a motor vehicle, and four felony firearm counts.
Cass County Prosecutor Victor Fitz noted that under Michigan’s Truth in Sentencing Law, Russell will not be eligible for parole consideration until he has actually served 43 years in prison.
“This plea ensures that the defendant pays an extremely serious penalty for the taking of a human life,” Fitz said in a news release. “The Wesaw family is comforted that justice is being done.”
Russell will be sentenced Oct. 25 at 8:30 a.m. in front of Cass County Circuit Judge Mark Herman.
Fitz reported that Russell admitted Tuesday that he had gone to his vehicle and taken out an AK-47 rifle after leaving the Beeson Street Bar in downtown Dowagiac in the early morning hours of July 29, 2018.
Russell acknowledged shooting 13 rounds at an individual he had been verbally sparring with at the bar and inadvertently hitting and killing Wesaw. Wesaw was a bystander in the altercation and died from the gunshot injuries he received.
Testimony given by a forensic pathologist at a preliminary hearing last year showed that Wesaw died from a single gunshot wound to his back when the bullet hit his carotid artery and caused significant blood loss.
The pathologist testified that Wesaw had abrasions on his face, neck and knees from falling and the bullet that killed him did not have the characteristics of having ricocheted off a building or other object.
A police detective who spoke to Russell for nearly two hours the day of the murder testified last year that Russell told him that he got into a verbal altercation with two brothers, Michael and Sherman Smith, outside the Beeson Street Bar and then went to his car to retrieve a weapon.
Russell said he attempted to fire the gun at Michael Smith from his car but the safety was on. He then started walking toward the BP gas station on the northwest corner of Front and Division and turned around and started firing when he heard the Smiths following him. He was between 95 and 100 yards away from them when he started shooting.
At last year’s preliminary hearing, defense attorney Tat Parish had suggested that Russell acted in self defense. For his part, Fitz had claimed a “transferred intent” legal theory in charging Russell with first-degree murder as he intended to shoot Michael Smith and actually killed Wesaw.