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No Murder in Jehovah’s Witness Case

December 19, 1998

POMONA, Calif. (AP) _ If an auto accident victim refuses a blood transfusion on religious grounds, is the man who caused the crash guilty of murder?

A Superior Court jury decided the answer is no, but did find a drunken driver guilty Friday of manslaughter in the death of a Jehovah’s Witness who refused blood transfusions.

Jadine Russell, 55, was standing on the side of the road with police after a minor car accident when Keith Cook slammed his pickup truck into a stationary car, pushing the vehicle into the woman.

Mrs. Russell suffered broken bones and severe bleeding in the March 7 accident, but she told emergency workers and doctors ``No blood!″ at least 10 times, and even tried to pull out an intravenous line, relatives said.

Jehovah’s Witnesses believe there is a biblical basis to refusing other people’s blood.

Defense attorneys argued that Mrs. Russell’s refusal of blood transfusions actually killed her, while prosecutors said the 32-year-old auto mechanic was guilty of murder.

``He set in motion a chain of events that eventually led to the death of Jadine Russell,″ prosecutor Larry Larson said. ``You can conclude the lack of a transfusion was a contributing factor in her death. But he can’t rely on someone saving him from these actions that he has caused.″

The jury deliberated 3 1/2 days before rejecting the murder charge and convicting Cook of the lesser charge.

Trials such as Cook’s are rare, but the district attorney’s office relied on legal precedent in bringing the charge of second degree murder. In October, a Louisiana appeals court reviewed a similar case and upheld three vehicular homicide convictions against a drunken driver. One of the victims was a Jehovah’s Witness who refused blood transfusions and died.

Larson said the manslaughter conviction carries essentially the same penalty as murder _ 15 years to life _ because Cook has a prior conviction for drunken driving. Defense attorney Charles Unger said Cook faces only four to 10 years. Sentencing was set for Feb. 11.

Jurors left the courtroom without commenting.

In addition to gross vehicular manslaughter, Cook was convicted of driving under the influence and causing injury to Mrs. Russell’s daughter, Jennifer. The jury also found that he injured two police officers while driving with a blood-alcohol level of at least 0.08 percent, the legal limit.

Mrs. Russell’s husband, James, said his greatest satisfaction was that the verdict ensures Cook will not be back on the road driving drunk.

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