Ex Texas EMT Is Given Six Years For Sexually Assaulting Teen In Back of Ambulance

TEXAS (AP) -- A former MedStar emergency medical technician was sentenced to six years in prison Friday for sexually assaulting a 15-year-old girl in the back of an ambulance.

After the verdict was read, the victim's mother took the witness stand and addressed James Christopher Russell, 29, who worked for MedStar for 14 months.

"This city trusted you, we trusted you to be there to care for victims -- not to create them," she said, sobbing.

The woman told Russell about the devastation he had caused her daughter, who had dreams of becoming a paramedic and was a participant in MedStar's Explorer program.

"When she was 3 or 4, her favorite show was Rescue 911," the woman said. "I don't know how she will ever be able to look at a medical career without these painful memories.

"Another of her goals was to save herself for marriage. But you took that choice away from her before she could make that for herself."

During the three-day trial in state District Judge Scott Wisch's court, the girl, now 16, told jurors that she was riding with Russell and Richard Neal Barash, 37, a paramedic, when the assaults occurred early Dec. 29, 2003.

While they were parked behind a shopping center near Ridgmar mall waiting for emergency calls, the men pressured her into having sex, she said. The girl later told her mother, who reported it to police.

Russell, who pleaded guilty this week to three counts of sexual assault of a child under 17, faced anywhere from probation to 20 years in prison.

Prosecutor Dixie Bersano asked jurors to sentence him to nothing less than eight years, saying he had violated the community's trust and manipulated a young girl.

Defense attorneys Roxanne Robinson and Jack Duffy argued for probation, calling the sex "consensual" and saying Russell was a good man who had never been in trouble before.

After deliberating for 10 hours over two days, the jury sentenced Russell to six years on one count and two years on each of the other two counts. The sentences will run concurrently; Russell must serve a minimum of three years before he is eligible for parole.

During her victim impact statement, the girl's mother told Russell that her daughter had never been on a first date or alone with a boy her age.

"She didn't have the knowledge or experience to fend you off," she said. "Maybe one day, you will look into your daughter's eyes and be able to teach her from experience how to protect herself from a predator like you."

Afterward, Russell asked -- and the judge granted -- permission to make a statement. He stood in the center of the courtroom and turned and faced the victim and her family, who were being comforted by Russell's estranged wife.

He apologized to all of them -- as well as his family and the city of Fort Worth -- for the pain and embarrassment he has caused and for violating their trust.

"I broke that trust in one single act of selfishness, and I apologize," he said.

And while jurors have decided Russell's fate, the implications of what happened that day in the back of the ambulance are far-reaching and far from over.

Barash remains free on bail, awaiting his trial.

A lawsuit is pending against the ambulance company and the Boy Scouts of America, which operated the Explorer program.

Cindy Russell, the defendant's wife, has filed for divorce.

During the trial, Cindy Russell, who has a young daughter with the defendant, sat with the victim and her family in a show of support.

"Nobody should have to go through what they have been through," Cindy Russell said. "My heart, thoughts and prayers are with her and her family."

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