BELLEVILLE — A St. Clair County jury on Wednesday convicted an O'Fallon man accused of beating a 29-year-old woman to death with a tire iron and ramming it down her throat inside a Fairmont City motel.
Santoin D. Russell, 27, was convicted of first-degree murder in connection with the death of Karinina G. Polk. Jurors began deliberations at noon and delivered their verdict at 4:35 p.m.
Polk, who was known as "Nina" and grew up in Belleville, was found beaten to death on Feb. 3, 2008, at the First Western Inn in Fairmont City.
Assistant State's Attorney Deborah Phillips, who prosecuted the case along with Assistant State's Attorney Steve Sallerson, said while Russell was in a Belleville jail cell shortly after his arrest, he phoned his father and said, "I just called to say I love you. I may be going to jail for a long time. There's nothing you can do about so don't stress. It's apparently over a homicide -- me, another girl and one of my friends. I don't know how far this is gonna go. I'm in a jail cell at the Belleville Police Department."
Phillips told the jury, "Those were not the words of an innocent man."
Russell's gold ring with "Jesus" on it was recovered where the beating occurred, Phillips said.
Phillips, in her closing argument, said Russell drove his friends -- Terryon Triplett and Kendra Merideth -- around all day and "talked about how somebody owed him money" and he definitely smoked crack all day, Phillips said.
"And, on Feb. 3, 2008, Nina's life was violently cut short because she owed that defendant $1,000 in drug money," Phillips said pointing to Russell, who was seated at the defense table with his two attorneys, Cathy McElroy and Kevin Baker.
Merideth, 27, of Cahokia, has not been tried in the case. She was charged with first-degree murder and is being held in the St. Clair County Jail. Merideth is accused of holding down the legs of Polk during the attack.
Triplett, 24, has pleaded guilty in the case and received a 20-year sentence.
The defense argued Triplett testified for the prosecution in order to get a deal in his own case.
"The devil is in the detail," McElroy said and then she reminded the jury that Triplett had admitted that the boxer shorts that were part of the state's evidence were his. And, a forensic expert with the Illinois State Police, Brian Hapack, said the blood found in them was a mixture from at least three different people and Triplett's was definitely present, while Russell's blood matched on some samples and not on others.
McElroy said Russell's fingerprints weren't on the tire iron.
Phillips told jurors that Triplett hit Polk "so hard her skull popped" and that Russell held her down and shoved the tire iron into her mouth.
McElroy told the jury that Triplett voluntarily went to the police department "to clear his name."
"He said he didn't have anything to do with it. That's not the actions of a contrite man," McElroy said.
McElroy said if Russell had shoved the tire iron down Polk's throat the way the state said he did, it would've gone straight down the middle of her throat. "I told you the devil would be in the details. They are. Triplett attempted to tell you all he didn't hit her that hard. He crushed her skull. It caused serious problems," McElroy said.
Sallerson, who got the last 10 minutes of the closing arguments, called Russell the devil and his friends disciples. He said, "Let's get things straight. The devil sits right there," he said, pointing to Russell. "The devil and his disciples, Terryon Triplett and Kendra Merideth. They're all part and parcel. Triplett is a cold-blooded murderer. His actions are just as egregious as Santoin's and Kendra Merideth's."
"This case was at a standstill until the violent crimes unit really made this case and verdict possible," St. Clair County State's Attorney Brendan Kelly said.
Kelly also sent out "thanks to the investigating departments and Phillips and Sallerson."
Russell also has been charged with strangling an O'Fallon man, 46-year-old Blake Harvey, in September 2008. Russell was indicted in that case on Oct. 17, 2008.
Contact reporter Carolyn P. Smith at 239-2503.