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Carlee Russell, who faked her own kidnapping, will serve no jail time

The Alabama woman said she was abducted along a highway after stopping to check on a wandering toddler.
Carlee Russell, who faked her own kidnapping, will serve no jail time
Posted at 5:25 PM, Mar 21, 2024

Carlee Russell, the Alabama woman whose false kidnapping story last July captivated the nation, pleaded guilty Thursday to filing a false police report and falsely reporting an incident to law enforcement.

A judge had found the 26-year-old guilty of the two misdemeanor charges in October, but her attorneys appealed the decision. A trial was set for March 18 before the plea hearing was scheduled last week.

In court Thursday, prosecutor Katherine Robertson asked the judge to deviate upward from sentencing guidelines and give Russell jail time because of her "ongoing, complete disrespect" for the community and law enforcement in perpetuating her hoax.

But Judge David Carpenter said it would be an even further "waste" of government resources to put Russell in jail, adding he would not treat Russell differently from any other first-time nonviolent offender.

Ultimately, Russell was given a six-month suspended sentence — allowing her to avoid going to jail — and 12 months of supervised probation. She'll also have to pay $17,974.88 in restitution to the city of Hoover and do community service.

Hoover Police Chief Nicholas Derzis said he was "disappointed" that Russell didn't get jail time and said the restitution amount didn't come close to what was actually spent, which he said was around $40,000 to $50,000.

SEE MORE: Carlee Russell's Alabama abduction hoax could affect legislation

Police had begun searching for Russell on July 13, 2023, when she disappeared after calling 911 to report a toddler wandering beside an interstate near Birmingham. She returned home two days later and told police she was abducted, but soon after, police shared that her attorneys acknowledged the wandering toddler and kidnapping never occurred. 

During the plea hearing Thursday, Russell tearfully apologized for the "negative impact" of her actions, saying she made a "grave mistake while trying to fight through various emotional issues" and regrets the pain she put everyone through. Her attorneys said she is now looking forward to putting the incident behind her and redeeming herself.

But the case appears to have made a mark on the state, as a bill that would make false reporting a felony works its way through the state legislature. The prosecutor acknowledged the bill Thursday, saying that Russell's case showed the need for tougher laws around the crime.

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