Kentucky pediatrician admits to murder-for-hire plot against her ex-husband

Published 4:58 pm Tuesday, April 23, 2024

A Kentucky pediatrician admitted in federal court Monday that she tried to hire a hitman to kill her ex-husband during a contentious custody battle.

Stephanie M. Russell, 53, of Louisville, entered a plea of guilty to two counts of a federal indictment charging her with using a facility in interstate commerce, or causing another person to travel in interstate commerce, in the attempted murder-for-hire of her ex-husband, as well as aiding and abetting interstate stalking of her ex-husband.

Russell entered her guilty plea Monday, on the same day her jury trial was scheduled to commence.

U.S. Attorney Michael A. Bennett of the Western District of Kentucky, and Special Agent in Charge Michael E. Stansbury of the FBI Louisville Field Office, made the announcement.

According to court records, Russell, a pediatrician, owned and ran KidzLife Pediatrics in Norton Commons, in Louisville, Kentucky. Beginning in July 2021, Russell caused another to travel in interstate commerce, and used a telephone, a facility of interstate commerce, with the intent that the murder of her former husband, R.C., be committed in violation of the laws of the Commonwealth of Kentucky and offered to pay for that murder.

In July 2021, during a contentious custody battle with her ex-husband, R.C., Russell began soliciting multiple KidzLife employees, asking if they knew someone who would be willing to kill R.C.

In the spring of 2022, the FBI was notified of Russell’s solicitations, and began an investigation.

As part of that investigation, a cooperating witness provided Russell with the telephone number of a purported hitman from the Chicago area. That hitman was an FBI Special Agent working undercover. Beginning on May 15, 2022, Russell had several recorded telephone conversations with the purported hitman. In one call, Russell and the purported hitman had the following exchange:

Hitman: Obviously you want [R.C.] killed, right, . . . ?

Russell: I want him to be completely gone from my life, yes . . . .

Hitman: Well I mean that can be in the Bahamas, but I don’t think we’re talking a vacation away. I think we’re talking in the ground.

Russell: I mean, do you like, do they disappear? Do you like shoot them on the road? Like what happens? Or should I just not know?

Hitman: It really depends on, I mean, price dictates. That’s just how that goes. The more work I got to do, the more it’s going to cost you, but it could be, do you want it to look like a suicide? Do you want it to . . .

Russell: Yes, that would be amazing.

Russell ultimately agreed to pay the purported hitman $7,000, with half due up front.

On May 18, 2022, Russell was caught on surveillance video leaving $3,500 in a specimen box outside the KidzLife building for the hitman to retrieve. The purported hitman drove to Louisville from Illinois and was videotaped as he picked up the payment. The FBI arrested Russell the next day.

Further, according to court documents and evidence presented at the change of plea hearing, between December 1, 2018, and August 9, 2019, during custody litigation, Russell, aided and abetted by J.S., a person who traveled to Louisville from Michigan, engaged in conduct that caused and attempted to cause her former husband substantial emotional distress, and Russell did so with the intent to harass and intimidate him.

Specifically, Russell encouraged J.S. to harass R.C., and provided J.S. with a burner phone to use while doing so.

The harassing conduct included visiting R.C.’s office unannounced, pretending to be a WAVE-3 reporter and leaving R.C. accusatory voicemails from the phone provided by Russell on R.C.’s phone, entering R.C.’s garage and leaving a note inside the garage pretending to be a reporter writing a derogatory story that could involve R.C., and by leaving fliers, with R.C.’s photograph and other personal identifying information, on cars at R.C.’s office.

The fliers contained defamatory allegations of misconduct and were intended to be viewed by R.C.’s co-workers, supervisors, and potentially clients.

Russell is scheduled for sentencing on July 31, 2024, in the United States District Court for the Western District of Kentucky. Russell remains detained pending sentencing. She faces a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison.

There is no parole in the federal system.

The FBI investigated the case, with assistance from the Louisville Metro Police Department.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Marisa Ford and David Weiser are prosecuting the case, with assistance from paralegal specialist Adela Alic.