California inmate, 92, kills self after forced release

Coval Russell, 92, recalls his stay in the Butte County Jail in Oroville, California on July 2, eight days before his death.  

OROVILLE, California (Reuters) -- A 92-year-old convict who had begged to be allowed to live out his days in jail committed suicide just days after his court-ordered release, leaping to his death off a California bridge, officials said Thursday.

Coval Russell, believed to be the oldest inmate in a California county jail, was found dead Wednesday beneath the 40-foot bridge over the Feather River, about 160 miles northeast of San Francisco, Lt. Tony Burine of the Butte County Coroners Office said.

Dubbed "Pops" at the Butte County Jail, Russell had spent 426 days behind bars for stabbing his 70-year-old landlord in April 2001 -- the only time he ever broke the law.

Russell, who never married and had no family, found jail to his liking, enjoying good relations with guards and becoming an unofficial "grandfather" to many of the younger inmates.

"We were a motley crew, but we were family nonetheless," 42-year-old Albert Morford, who was in the jail on a drug charge, told the Los Angeles Times, which wrote a profile of the elderly inmate.

Blind in one eye and afflicted with prostate cancer, Russell sought to remain in the jail as his lawyer filed continuances in the case in hopes of putting off his inevitable release.

But on June 26 a judge ordered him freed, saying jail was not a place for a man of his age and physical condition.

After several weeks at a local motel, Russell went Wednesday to pay $41 to keep the room for another night. He then called a cab.

Russell, who spoke to the Los Angeles Times several days before his death, said he did not know what to do with himself without his jailhouse friends.

"My future holds nothing," he said. "At my age and my physical condition, it's like being dead while you're still alive."

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