Alabama Woman Who Lied About Abduction Pleads Guilty to Filing a False Report


An Alabama woman who faked her own kidnapping in a bizarre case that drew national attention last summer pleaded guilty Thursday to misdemeanor charges of filing a false report to law enforcement, her lawyer said.

The woman, Carlee Russell, 26, was handed two six-month suspended jail sentences, allowing her to avoid time behind bars if she successfully completes 12 months of probation and 100 hours of community service. She must also pay $17,000 in restitution, her lawyer, Emory Anthony, said in a phone interview.

Ms. Russell’s name and picture dominated the news cycle in the middle of 2023 after she made a strange 911 call on July 13 reporting that she had seen a stranded toddler on the side of a road in the city of Hoover, Ala. Shortly after, she told a relative in another call about the toddler before that person heard Ms. Russell scream.

That was the last anyone had heard from her before she was reported missing, prompting a statewide search. Two days after her disappearance, she showed up on foot at her family’s home and told investigators an elaborate story about having been kidnapped and a harrowing escape through the woods.

But a police investigation quickly poked holes in her account and surfaced suspicious online searches suggesting that she had planned her disappearance.

Before that month’s end, she confessed in a letter to police sent through her lawyer, Mr. Anthony, that the entire ordeal was a lie perpetrated solely by herself. There was no child and there was no kidnapping.

After her guilty plea in Jefferson County Circuit Court on Thursday, Ms. Russell apologized to officials and offered an explanation.

“I made a grave mistake while trying to fight through various emotional issues and stress,” she said, adding that she “wished that I had cried for help in a totally different manner.”

The admission rankled authorities involved in the search for Ms. Russell.

Nicholas Derzis, the Hoover police chief, said Ms. Russell had wasted critical law enforcement resources.

But her lawyer said that the punishment, a typical probation sentence for first-time misdemeanor offenders, was a just outcome.

“I’m pleased that the judge did not try to make an example of her,” Mr. Anthony said.

The Alabama Attorney General’s Office, which prosecuted the case, and other officials had hoped to see a harsher punishment.

“We are disappointed, but not surprised, that Ms. Russell did not get the requested jail time for her crimes,” said Katherine Robertson, the attorney general’s chief counsel, in a statement.

Ms. Robertson added that the penalty provided under current law was weak, and she expressed support for a proposed state law that would make falsely reporting an imminent danger to police a felony.

In Circuit Court in Jefferson County, Ala., on Thursday, Judge David Carpenter told Ms. Russell that putting her behind bars would waste resources.

“Although we are upset about what you’ve done, we’re not going to treat you differently than we would any other person charged with misdemeanors,” the judge said, according the WSFA 12, a local television station.

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