Carlee Russell Cites 'Emotional Issues' that Led to Kidnapping Hoax, Gets Sentenced to Probation

The Judge said that sentencing the woman to time in jail would be a waste of government resources

<p>Hoover Police Department</p> Carlee Russell in a 2023 mugshot.

Hoover Police Department

Carlee Russell in a 2023 mugshot.

Carlee Russell, the Alabama woman who faked her own abduction last July, has been spared jail time and sentenced to probation after pleading guilty, according to multiple reports.

In October a Hoover, Ala., judge found Russell guilty of false reporting to law enforcement and falsely reporting an incident, both misdemeanors associated with her high-profile fabricated kidnapping. He recommended a year in jail, the payment of $17,874 in restitution two fines each of $831.

Today, dressed in a black skirt and gray suit jacket, per video of her entering Bessemer Courthouse, Russell, 26 – who had appealed that verdict and was set for trial March 18 – instead entered a plea of guilty to both counts, reports.

“I made a grave mistake while trying to fight through various emotional issues and stress,” Russell said through tears, per the outlet.

<p>Hoover (AL) Police Department</p> Carlee Russell

Hoover (AL) Police Department

Carlee Russell

Related: Ala. Woman Called 911 to Report Seeing Child Along Highway. Then She Disappeared

“I absolutely regret my decision and in hindsight wish I had cried for help in a totally different manner,” she told the judge. “My prayer is that I will be extended grace and be given the opportunity to redeem who I truly am and restore the positively esteemed character that I have worked so hard to obtain for the 25 years of my life prior to this incident.”

Russell had entered a blind plea – meaning she had no deal in place with the Alabama Attorney General’s Office when she came to court today – in a gamble for reduced jail time.

Ultimately, reports, she was sentenced to six months in county jail – time which the judge suspended – saying her incarceration would be a waste of government resources as she is not deemed a threat to the community.

NBC reports she will be under supervised probation for 12 months.

State prosecutor Clark Morris, who had argued that Russell should spend time behind bars – suggesting she could even just come to jail just for nights or weekends – told the judge, per, that the case boiled down to “respect for law enforcement and respect for this community as a whole.”

“Miss Russell faked a kidnapping, duped the community, and contrived this situation,” he said. “We, judge, still don’t know, to this day where she was, how she got there, what she was doing, and with whom she was doing it.”

In an emailed statement to PEOPLE after the sentencing, Chief Counsel Katherine Robertson said the sentencing was expected.

"We are disappointed, but not surprised, that Ms. Russell did not get the requested jail time for her crimes," she said.

"Current law provides a weak penalty for false reporting and fails to account for situations, like Ms. Russell’s, that result in a significant law enforcement response. Fortunately, the Governor will soon receive our legislation to increase penalties for false reporting when an imminent threat is alleged and will expand the amount of restitution that can be sought. The next time law enforcement resources are needlessly wasted in this manner, the offender will be forever labeled a felon."

Making a false report could soon become a felony in Alabama, per a newly proposed bill, requiring hoaxers to reimburse law enforcement. The bill was reportedly inspired by Russell’s hoax.

Last July, prior to the hoax, Russell searched online for the kidnapping thriller Taken, the cost of an Amber Alert and a one-way bus ticket from Birmingham to Nashville.

While driving along Alabama’s interstate July 13, Russell called 911 at 9:34 p.m., reporting a toddler in a diaper wandering the highway. Then she called a family friend, who heard screaming before she lost contact.

Russell’s abandoned car was still running when police arrived.

Over the next 49 hours, local, state and federal authorities were joined by hundreds of concerned community members, including families of missing loved ones.

Then, two days after her disappearance, Russell walked home with a torn shirt and $107 stuffed in her right sock.

<p>Hoover Police Dept/Twitter</p> Carlee Russell

Hoover Police Dept/Twitter

Carlee Russell

Related: Carlee Russell Found Guilty in Kidnapping Hoax Case, May Face 1 Year in Jail and $18K Restitution

In the single interview she granted police, Russell said her purported kidnapper — a man she described as having orange hair and a bald spot — “came out of the trees,” and, along with a woman who she could not see through her blindfold, forced her onto an 18-wheeler.

Russell claimed the man later made her remove her clothes and pose for nude photographs, before she eventually managed to escape.

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Each day, about 2,300 people are reported missing in the U.S., according to Newsweek, which just launched a yearlong project featuring America’s missing.

Few cases have captured the public’s attention like Russell’s, which landed her among Google’s top 10 trending people in the country. (She was #7, below Travis Kelce and above Jamie Foxx and Danny Masterson.)

<p>Thomar Latrell Simmons/Instagram</p> Carlee Russell with her then-boyfriend, Thomar Latrell Simmons.

Thomar Latrell Simmons/Instagram

Carlee Russell with her then-boyfriend, Thomar Latrell Simmons.

Related: Woman Who Disappeared After Reporting Toddler on Interstate Was 'Fighting for Her Life,' Says Boyfriend

Of course, Russell – who faked her abduction following an argument with her then boyfriend – had never really been missing.

Nine days after her return, Russell admitted through a lawyer that the entire abduction – from her 911 call about a missing toddler to her subsequent account of her disappearance – had been made up.

<p>ABC 33/40 via AP</p> Hoover Police Chief Nick Derzis at a press conference, July 19, 2023.

ABC 33/40 via AP

Hoover Police Chief Nick Derzis at a press conference, July 19, 2023.

Related: Police 'Pretty Much' Knew Carlee Russell Had Lied When They Released Info on Searches: 'It Is What It Is'

We knew it was a hoax,” Hoover Police Chief Nick Derzis said at a July press conference, adding: “The sad thing is, there were so many people that were involved and took this thing very very seriously, we wanted the focus to be bringing her home.”

Missing persons activist Angela Harris, the mother of 19-year-old Aniah Blanchard, who was fatally abducted from an Auburn, Ala., gas station in 2019, was among those who searched for Russell.

courtesy Walt Harris Aniah Blanchard (center) with her step-father Walt Harris and mother Angela Harris.
courtesy Walt Harris Aniah Blanchard (center) with her step-father Walt Harris and mother Angela Harris.

Related: UFC Fighter Shares Heartbreak After Missing Stepdaughter Is Found Dead: 'The Pain Is Unbearable'

Young Black women, like Blanchard, disproportionately go missing in the U.S., with about 80,000 Black women who are 20 years or younger, dropping off the map in 2022 alone, per FBI data analyzed by Statista. (Data for 2023 has not been released.)

“All we knew was that we needed to find Carlee because she was missing and nowhere to be found,” Harris told PEOPLE in a later interview. “Everybody deserves that.”

Related: Carlee Russell Search Leader, Whose Daughter Was Abducted and Killed, Doesn't Regret Helping, But Is 'Shocked'

“Of course deep down inside I’m very angry,” Harris said of searching for a woman who had not been missing, while so many others tragically, quietly disappear.

But, on principle, Harris said, “I’d do it again.”

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