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Carlee Russell, accused of kidnapping hoax, will appeal after guilty verdict

HOOVER, Ala. — An Alabama woman accused of falsely telling police she was abducted after stopping to check on a toddler wandering along the highway is appealing her municipal court conviction in an effort to avoid a yearlong jail sentence sought by prosecutors.

A municipal judge on Wednesday found Carlee Russell, 26, guilty of misdemeanor charges of false reporting to law enforcement and falsely reporting an incident. The guilty judgement came after Russell's attorneys agreed to "stipulate and appeal" the case — a legal maneuver to move the case to circuit court where proceedings will start anew.

Russell's summer disappearance — and her story of being abducted after stopping her car to check on the child — captivated the nation before police called it a hoax.

Flanked by her family and attorneys, Russell made her first court appearance Wednesday amid a heavy media presence, news outlets reported.

Defense attorney Richard Jaffe said in a telephone interview they do not think jail time is appropriate. He said they agreed to an arrangement called "stipulate and appeal." It is a court agreement in which a defendant acknowledges the evidence against them, a guilty decision is entered and the case is appealed to the circuit court.

"We've requested a jury trial. That gives us an opportunity between now and then to explore all of our options and to try to work something out with the prosecution that does not involve jail time but does involve a fair restitution amount," Jaffe said.

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News outlets reported that prosecutors are seeking a year of jail time. Russell's attorneys said they don't think she should serve jail time for a misdemeanor offense.

"We don't think jail time for a first-offender with a class A misdemeanor is reasonable because that just doesn't happen," Jaffe said.

Jaffe said he understands that state prosecutors want jail time as a deterrent to potential future hoaxes. But he added that a conviction, restitution and the publicity surrounding the case will also have a deterrent effect.

Russell disappeared on July 13 after calling 911 to report a toddler beside a stretch of interstate. She returned home two days later and told police she had been abducted and forced into a vehicle. Police began quickly casting doubt on Russell's story. Her attorney had issued a statement through police acknowledging there had been no kidnapping and that she never saw a toddler. Russell in the statement apologized to law enforcement and the volunteer searchers who had been looking for her.

"We ask for your prayers for Carlee, as she addresses her issues and attempts to move forward, understanding that she made a mistake in this matter. Carlee again asks for your forgiveness and prayers," Emory Anthony said in the July statement.

Hoover Police Chief Nick Derzis previously said he was frustrated that Russell was only being charged with two misdemeanors despite the panic and disruption she caused. But he said the law did not allow for enhanced charges.

Sherri Papini in California was sentenced to 18 months in prison for lying to federal agents and staging her 2016 fake abduction, which led to a three-week, multi-state search.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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