A Denver man convicted six years ago of leaving his next-door neighbor to die in a burning house after raping, stabbing, clubbing and gagging her came back to court Friday to ask for a new trial. Donnie Russell now claims that his attorneys in the 1990 trial, one of whom is now a Denver magistrate, didn’t do what they should have to defend him. Denver District Judge Lynne Hufnagel said she will rule Tuesday. Russell, now 25, was sentenced to 104 years in prison in the highly publicized case. Daling Collier, the woman he brutalized, said in 1990 that she hoped she’d never see his face again. But she appeared in Denver District Court Friday to face her attacker again. “That doesn’t bother me,” said Collier, 36.
“That he lies does bother me.” At Russell’s trial, Collier held the courtroom in rapt attention as she testified about the horror that began after Russell came to her home and asked to use the phone. Collier said he bound and gagged her with tube socks, raped her, wrapped her head in duct tape and put her in a crawl space. When she worked her hands free and got out still blinded by the duct tape Russell hit her on the head with a claw hammer and dragged her back. She said she pretended to be dead when he returned with a butcher knife and slashed her wrists and thigh. Then he slammed the door, barricaded it and set the house on fire. Collier said she used the knife to tear the duct tape off her eyes and cut strips from her clothing to wrap her bleeding wrists. Fearing she would die as smoke filled the room, she used a puddle of her own blood to write “Donnie.” But she marshaled her strength to break out. Collier and her husband still live next door to Russell’s family in Montbello. “They don’t say nothing to me, and I don’t say nothing to them,” she said.
“They’re here for him today, so I guess they believe what he says.” Russell now says he’d had sex with Collier “eight or 10” times and went to her home Sept. 6, 1989, to sell her drugs. He says she attacked herself and set the fire so her husband wouldn’t find out about their relationship. Previously, he said he bound and gagged her and someone else came in and committed the other crimes. Questioned by the judge Friday, Russell said he hadn’t been well prepared for the hearing. “Sometimes what you do, Mr. Russell, is just tell the truth,” the judge told him sharply. Denver Magistrate Dan Edwards and attorney Lauren Cleaver denied that their defense of Russell was inadequate. “The evidence was overwhelming that Donnie Russell committed this crime,” Cleaver said.