It's back to prison for motivational speaker

  • Article by: RICHARD MERYHEW , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 27, 2008 - 11:56 PM

An ex-con who spoke to teens about avoiding bad choices was found guilty of attempted murder in a fight involving drinking and drug use.

An ex-con and former drug user who once made a living preaching to kids about the dangers of drugs, teen sex and bad choices is headed back to prison.

Russell Simon Jr., 45, was convicted late Tuesday in Isanti County District Court of attempted murder, assault with a dangerous weapon and felony possession of a firearm stemming from a May shooting at a house he shared with his girlfriend near Cambridge, Minn.

According to court records, the incident unfolded after Simon and a friend he had met in prison returned to the house after a night of bar hopping, drinking and drug use.

"He's just a very dangerous man," said Stacy St. George, an assistant Isanti County attorney who helped prosecute the case. "The idea that he's going to be back behind bars for a long time is something we're grateful for."

Simon, a high school dropout who lived in Roseville prior to moving to rural Cambridge in the past year, seemingly cleaned up his life by becoming a motivational speaker shortly after his prison release in the early 1990s.

For more than a decade he traveled the country delivering speeches to students and parents under the heading "Ten seconds can change your life forever."

According to court records, the shooting happened early May 15 after Simon, who was intoxicated to the point of vomiting, went upstairs and took off his clothes. He then walked downstairs naked and began fighting with his friend.

Simon's attorney, Barry Voss, argued at trial that the fight started after Simon saw his friend and girlfriend embrace and suspected they were having an affair. Voss also disputed testimony that Simon fired the shots.

St. George said Simon started the fight by throwing a water bottle at his friend.

Court records said that within an hour, the fight resumed and Simon picked up a small statue of John Wayne and hit his friend, breaking his nose.

Simon then went upstairs, picked up a handgun and began shooting at his friend and his girlfriend, both of whom ran from the house.

Within seconds, however, the woman ran back inside to check on her 9-year-old son, who was in a bedroom crying. As she consoled the boy, Simon threatened to shoot them both if she didn't perform a sex act, the records said.

Police arrested Simon later that morning without incident.

Authorities later said lab tests showed that Simon had cocaine, methamphetamine and THC in his system.

Voss said Wednesday that he was troubled by the introduction of the urinalysis as evidence and plans to file an appeal after Simon's sentencing, scheduled for Dec. 11.

Simon's criminal history dates to 1982, when he was convicted of felony burglary in Sherburne County.

Over the next decade, he picked up felony convictions for theft, aggravated forgery, assault and burglary in several metro counties.

During his career as a public speaker, he was twice convicted of misdemeanor domestic assault.

In 2004, his second wife went to court to obtain a protection order after he choked her and dragged her by her hair down the stairs.

Richard Meryhew • 612-673-4425

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