New Brunswick·CBC Investigates

Baby Russell: A few minutes of life, then a knife in the heart

Months before Baby Russell came into the world, his parents decided he wouldn’t live.

Warning: This story contains graphic details about the death of Baby Russell

Baby Russell died after being stabbed in the heart by his father in 2009. He would be eight years old now. (CBC)

Months before the baby came into the world, his parents decided he wouldn't live.

Sarah Marie Russell and her common-law husband, Rodney Miller, who lived in Moores Mills, N.B., denied the pregnancy when questioned by suspicious social workers.

One son had already been taken away after nearly dying from suspected shaken baby syndrome, but no one was ever convicted for the damage that was inflicted.

The couple never visited a doctor before Sarah Marie gave birth again. Their internet history showed they researched home deliveries.

For want of a proper given name, the child became known after his death as Baby Russell. Miller, throughout his interview with police, called him "the damn thing."  

Baby Russell was born on Jan. 17, 2009, inside a small cabin where his parents lived.

It appears, a judge said later, that his mother, never held him. She and Miller hoped he would die naturally or be stillborn.

When Miller saw his son's tiny fingers move, he selected a knife from the kitchen drawer.

Russell was in the bathroom, when Miller placed his hand over his son's chest and felt his heartbeat.

Then he did the unthinkable.

He plunged a knife into the newborn's heart and felt him go limp. Baby Russell had lived for only a few minutes.

The body was wrapped in a teddy bear blanket and placed in a garbage bag. Miller cleaned up the house, carefully washing the knife.

He hid his son's body under a nearby building. Then he went back inside, drank a few beers, smoked a joint and thought about what to do next.

Months before Baby Russell came into the world, his parents decided he wouldn’t live. 1:18
The next day, Russell followed Miller outside, walking past the railway tracks and into the woods, carrying their son's body.

He doused Baby Russell with gasoline and lit him on fire. Later, he spread snow over the remains.

A snowstorm was coming, and Miller hoped the body would stay undetected for months.

A gruesome discovery

This is the spot where investigators found Baby Russell's body in Moores Mills, near St. Stephen. The police tape is still there, eight years later. (CBC)
Social workers noticed Russell's baby bump the summer of 2008. Because of the family's history with social services, a child would likely be seized at birth.

Social workers' hands were tied, however.

Even as Russell's pregnancy became more apparent, the couple denied it.

At Miller's trial, one social worker said she and her colleagues in child protection did not have the legal power to force Russell to take a pregnancy test.

They asked hospitals in New Brunswick and Maine to be on the lookout for her.

But the mother never went to a doctor.

Rodney Miller was convicted of first-degree murder in the death of his son.
Russell missed some appointments with social workers before giving birth. When she resurfaced, a social worker noticed she was no longer pregnant.

A few days later, police dogs scoured the woods behind the couple's home and found the body.

His parents were arrested on suspicion of concealing the baby's death. Their first court appearance drew a crowd at the St. Stephen courthouse.

"Murderers! Baby killers!" a man yelled as Russell and Miller were led into court in custody.

"We lost our baby in January, right after Christmas," the man told a CBC reporter through tears.

"And you got people like this having children."

'Heart wrenching' details

Sarah Marie Russell pleaded guilty to criminal negligence causing death.
After his arrest, police interrogated Miller for four hours. He told them the haunting details of his son's birth and death.

He eventually changed his plea to guilty of first-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison, without parole eligibility for 25 years.

Russell pleaded guilty to criminal negligence causing death.

In sentencing her to 30 months in prison, Judge David Walker said Russell was likely manipulated by her boyfriend.

While the mother didn't deliver the fatal blow, she never tried to get help, even following Miller into the woods when he lit their son's body on fire.

That she did nothing to protect or nurture her baby, the judge said, is "heart wrenching."

"What happened to the baby is beyond comprehension and was compounded by the hiding and burning of his body," Walker wrote.

"Ms. Russell was aware of all of that and did nothing, absolutely nothing."

'You'll just never forget'

Defence lawyer Joel Hansen still doesn't understand why Rodney Miller plunged a knife into his infant son's heart. (CBC)
When defence lawyer Joel Hansen looked at police photographs, he was shocked to see an infant with blue eyes staring back at him. The deep snow had preserved Baby Russell's body.

"He just looked like an innocent, beautiful baby doll, you know? Just perfect," Hansen said in a recent interview.

The veteran St. Stephen lawyer was hired to defend Miller at his first-degree murder trial. No one in the community could understand why Hansen agreed.

There was a lot Hansen didn't understand either.

He thinks of his own children and how he felt when they were born. For some reason, Russell and Miller didn't feel that same attachment when their baby came into the world.

The parents were determined not to let the boy live.

But why?

Eight years later, Hansen still doesn't have the answers he wanted. In all their conversations, he could never get an explanation or motive from Miller.

Defense lawyer Joel Hansen talks about defending Rodney Miller, the father of Baby Russell 0:35
Hansen tries not to think about the case, but it seeps into his mind.

"No matter how much you try, certain things will trigger it," he said.

"You'll just never forget. You almost feel obliged, for the baby, not to forget."

Baby Russell doesn't have a memorial. There is no grave, no place to leave flowers, no one to celebrate the anniversary of his birth or death. The home has been torn to the ground, reduced to rubble.

Back in the woods, behind the train tracks, a single piece of yellow tape remains tied to a tree, a reminder of how he lived and died.

Baby Russell would be eight years old now.

Jackie Brewer, the 2-year-old who was ignored to death

How New Brunswick's child death review system works

Part 2The Lost Children: 'A child that dies shouldn't be anonymous'

Haunted by Juli-Anna: An 'agonizingly painful' preventable death

Part 3The Lost Children: Change on horizon for First Nations child welfare

Mona Sock, a life stolen by abuse

Part 4The Lost Children: Government weighs privacy over transparency in child deaths

Baby Russell: A few minutes of life, then a knife in the heart

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