Ohio Police Hold Slaying Suspect
Roommate Charged with Killing Retired Priest

By Delano R. Massey
Lexington Herald Leader (Kentucky)
December 19, 2003

The man charged with murder in the death of a retired Catholic priest and convicted sex offender is being held in an Ohio jail.

Jason Anthony Russell, 26, was arrested by Ironton, Ohio, police Wednesday night. Yesterday, he agreed to be extradited to Kentucky.

"He's available for pickup anytime they want him," said Ironton Police Capt. Jerry Leach.

Russell was taken into custody Wednesday about 10:15 p.m. when an Ironton police officer spotted him in the passenger seat of a vehicle at a 24-hour gas station. Police in Ironton had been on the lookout for him for days.

Russell is charged in the fatal beating of Joseph J. Pilger, his 78-year-old roommate, who was found dead Dec. 5 at his Lexington home at 260 Pleasant Pointe Drive, police said.

Russell was nowhere to be found when police discovered Pilger's body. Neither was Pilger's 1999 Buick Century.

Police Lt. James Curless said previously that Russell had been living with Pilger, but he did not know how they were acquainted.

Russell's apprehension comes a day after an arrest warrant was issued and his name was entered into the national criminal database.

But what ultimately led Ironton police to Russell was a domestic violence call they responded to on Sunday.

Russell was involved in a non-violent dispute with his former wife, Leach said.

Ironton police ran his name through their system and it came up clean because, at that point, he was not wanted as a suspect by Lexington police. Since Russell had no warrants, Leach said, they let him go.

"We started hearing rumors that he might have done something in Lexington," Leach said. "Tuesday we heard about the warrant and we immediately began searching for him."

Kentucky police provided Ironton with a picture of Russell. They also received tips from his friends that he was in the town of 12,200 outside Ashland, Ky.

"We consider him one of the locals," Leach said. "It's my understanding that he has always lived here. But we haven't dealt with him in a long time."

Russell apparently considers Ironton home, too. When he was arrested Wednesday, he listed an address on South 10th Street in Ironton.

Pilger's car was discovered in a field in Lawrence County near State Route 93, said Lawrence County Sheriff Tim Sexton.

"We recovered the car Dec. 3," Sexton said. "We've been in touch with Lexington law officials ever since."

According to the Fayette County jail, Russell was arrested in Lexington on a parole violation in July 2002.

Curless previously said it is possible that, other than the murder count, additional charges will be filed against Russell.

Pilger pleaded guilty to sexual abuse in 1995 for abusing three brothers and their cousin -- all of whom were altar boys -- in 1968 and 1969, when he was their pastor in Morganfield in Western Kentucky.

The victims were younger than 15. Pilger received five years' probation and underwent counseling under a plea bargain.

Earlier this year, Pilger was named in a sexual abuse lawsuit against the Diocese of Lexington and Covington. Daniel Willett of Florida claimed he was abused by Pilger in 1962 at St. Paul's School in Lexington.


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