A man who provided illegal drugs to two female victims, 16 and 17, and committed sex offenses against them, was sentenced Tuesday to 10 years in state prison, Santa Cruz County District Attorney Jeff Rosell announced.
The parents of Emma Lace Price, the 16-year-old who was found dead of an overdose at Michael James Russell’s Corralitos residence on Nov. 12, 2021 with four different narcotics in her system, have additionally filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Russell and his parents. The case will be heard in March.
Meanwhile, Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s investigators are being criticized for not considering Price’s death suspicious at first, and for treating it as merely an overdose.
Investigators discovered that, in the days leading up to her death, she had been getting illegal narcotics from multiple dealers, including Russell.
According to court documents, Russell met Price about a month before her death, and the two began a sexual relationship, which involved him giving Price Percocet laced with Fentanyl. Once she entered an unresponsive state, the lawsuit further alleges he failed to give her the medical attention she needed.
Court documents show that Russell instead called a friend, and removed Price’s clothes and put her in a cold shower. He and the friend then injected her with Narcan, and finally called 911 after 30 minutes.
Still, Rosell said that there was insufficient evidence to hold him responsible for her death.
“This was an incredibly tragic case which has had a devastating impact on (the victim’s) family, her loved ones, and many other concerned members of the community,” Rosell stated in a press release. “While nothing can bring back their daughter, nor does this sentence represent the pain and trauma of their loss, our office hopes this disposition will further protect the public by ensuring a defendant who takes advantage of underage victims is held accountable for his crimes.”
Russell, 24, will have to register as a sex offender upon his release.