For two decades Robert L. Russel was the public face of justice in the Pikes Peak Region — a five-term district attorney who personally tried some of his biggest cases while nurturing the talent of dozens of young attorneys.
Friday afternoon, friends and family members will say “thank you.”
After weeks of declining health, the 82-year-old will be feted with a private tribute at the El Pomar Foundation in Colorado Springs, according to his son, Richard Russel. Colorado Attorney General John Suthers — a former employee of Russel’s — is among those planning to celebrate Russel’s contributions.
Russel, who is hospitalized, will be unable to attend, family members said.
Memorabilia and newspaper clippings will offer glimpses of Russel’s varied career, from prosecuting notorious serial killer Ted Bundy to winning a conviction against the man who killed Karen Grammer, sister to actor Kelsey Grammer.
Russel, who served as 4th Judicial District Attorney from 1965 to 1985, came into office as the only full-time prosecutor for El Paso and Teller counties, and built a team of up-and-coming legal talents, observers say.
“He mentored probably the majority of lawyers in Colorado Springs that passed through his office,” said Bill Kirkman, a veteran Colorado Springs attorney who was among the first of Russel’s deputies to serve full time.
According to Gary “Hoss” Thompson, a longtime friend who worked as an investigator under Russel: “He hired good people, and left them alone, and let them do their job.”
According to a biography on his website, Russel personally tried some 30 murder cases and supervised hundreds of other trials — pushing hard for the death penalty in cases where he believed it was merited.
Among the killers who crossed his path was Ted Bundy, who avoided a 1977 trial in Aspen by escaping custody in Glenwood Springs. Russel, who was appointed as a special prosecutor in the case, later joked his response to news of the escape was unprintable in a family newspaper. Bundy was recaptured and executed in Florida.
After retiring in 1995, Russel stayed active in the legal community, did volunteer work and played trumpet in several area bands. He made it a point to show up at parole hearings for the killers he put behind bars.
The building that houses the district attorney’s office at 105 E. Vermijo Ave. was named the Robert L. Russel Professional Building to honor his service.
His influence will be felt at Friday’s tribute, where Suthers will be one of many prominent guests who once served under Russel — a group that includes attorneys, former state legislators and prominent businessmen.
“Bob Russel is deserving of a tribute — for his many years of service and also for the volunteer work that he’s done,” said El Pomar Foundation Board Chairman Bill Hybl, also a prosecutor under Russel.
And while poor health might have prompted the tribute, family members say the focus will be on celebrating his life and achievements.
“It’s our chance to say thank you,” said Richard Russel.