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UTAH STATE PRISON — A man convicted of killing three people a quarter-century ago during two separate drunken sprees is likely one step closer to officially spending the rest of his life in prison.
A rehearing was held Tuesday before the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole for Russell M. Anderson, 61.
On July 22, 1987, Anderson shot and killed Norman B. and Janet Marie Armstrong while target shooting. Their bodies were found near the I-80 overpass at 6000 West. Then on Aug. 29, 1987, Anderson shot and killed Frank R. Boulton in a Bountiful church parking lot.
Anderson eventually pleaded guilty but mentally ill to each murder and was sentenced to three consecutive five-years-to-life sentences at the Utah State Prison. A judge ordered Anderson to be sent directly to prison rather than the Utah State Hospital because he was mentally retarded, not mentally ill, and a stay at the state hospital would not do any good because he was not treatable or curable.
During a parole hearing on Tuesday, Anderson, repeated himself often, saying several times that, "I wasn't myself back then" and that he had "great remorse" for what happened.
Parole board member Robert Yeates conducted the hearing and asked Anderson to go over each incident, starting with the shooting death of Boulton.
Anderson said he and Boulton both worked at Deseret Industries and after work one day, they went to the old Salt Palace to watch wrestling matches and got drunk. Afterward, they went to a Bountiful church parking lot to walk around.
"We all went out and got drunk and just got out of hand, ya know. I don't know … I wasn't myself back then," he said. "We were just both drunk, sloppy drunk. I don't know why. It was stupid. I don't know why I even did it. I was pretty messed up that day."
Boulton was shot multiple times. When Yeates asked Anderson on Tuesday how many times he shot him, he said he couldn't remember anymore.
We all went out and got drunk and just got out of hand, ya know. I don't know … I wasn't myself back then. We were just both drunk, sloppy drunk. I don't know why. It was stupid. I don't know why I even did it. I was pretty messed up that day.
–Russell M. Anderson
Anderson often rambled and spoke in an almost mumbled tone that was hard to understand at times. He used phrases such as "Just stupid on my behalf," "I blanked out" and "I just went berserk" when speaking of the Armstrong murders. Again, he said he could not longer remember how many times he shot each victim.
Anderson said he was a friend of the Armstrongs. He actually got the gun he used for all three shooting deaths from Norman Armstrong, he said. Again, he said he was drunk when he went to take the Armstrongs target shooting.
"It was the stupidest thing we've ever done," he said. "Then things just got out of hand. I was drinking at that time, too. ... I don't know why I did it. I just wasn't myself. I was messed up in my head back then.
"I stood there for about a half hour (after the shootings) and said, 'What in the hell did I do?'"
Anderson said the next day, while his mother was watching a news report on TV about the shootings, he told her what he had done. He wasn't arrested, however, until several weeks later.
Since his incarceration, Anderson said he has obtained his high school diploma and attended many life skills classes. He said he also wrote apology letters to the families about 10 years ago.
David Armstrong was 13 when his parents were murdered. He spoke at Tuesday's hearing, urging the board to keep Anderson in prison for life.
"I hear his apology. In some ways I accept it. I have no anger. I have no malice. I have no revenge. I appreciate the effort of coming to that conclusion. But I just still feel that here in prison is the only place to really gain any sort of penitence or repentance and I don't want to take the opportunity away from him. I know other family members would say the same thing, that he needs to stay here until the end of his life," he said.
"I think he would be fine (in the outside world) if he didn't talk to anybody. But once he makes friends with someone, such as my parents or Frank, those are the kind of people who are in danger of getting hurt. And the answer is, 'I don't know why. I don't know why I hurt them.' And that's kind of scary."
Armstrong told the parole board that at the time of his parents' deaths, he and his two brothers were living with their grandmother. He said his family was poor and the three sons were put in the foster care system when he was 10.
"My parents were good people. They were really trying to get back on a path of getting us children back. It never really happened. I think it would have happened," he said.
Yeates noted that Anderson has not had behavioral problems while in prison. However, a report from prison executive director Rollin Cook recommended that Anderson not be granted a pardon.
Yeates told Anderson that he agreed.
"I need to be completely honest and up front with you. I'm probably going to vote that you expire your life sentence, which means you would spend the rest of your life in prison," he told him before ending the hearing.
The full five-member board will now decide whether to grant parole to Anderson. A decision is expected within 30 days.