Murder suspect arraigned

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 19, 2003

A man wanted in connection with the murder of a Lexington, Ky. Catholic priest has waived extradition and will soon be headed back to Kentucky.

Jason A. Russell, 26, whose address is listed on police records as 612 S. 10th St., Ironton was arraigned

in Ironton Municipal Court Thursday.

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Russell was arrested late Wednesday evening by

Ironton police officers. He was charged with murder in the beating death of the Rev. Joseph Pilger, whose body was discovered at his Lexington residence Dec. 5. Police there theorize Pilger was killed sometime between Dec. 3 and Dec. 5.

"It is my understanding that he (Pilger) would take in people and offer support to people in need," Lexington-Fayette Metro Police Department Lt. James Curless said.

Russell was arrested late Wednesday evening without incident after an Ironton Police officer spotted his car at the Rich Oil station at Third and Monroe streets. He was apprehended several blocks away.

Ironton Police Department Capt. Jerry Leach said authorities here had been aggressively searching for Russell after Kentucky police advised that Russell could be in this area.

Lawrence County Sheriff Tim Sexton said Pilger's car, a 1999 Buick, was recovered recently in a field off State Route 93 in Decatur Township. Sexton said the car had been reported stolen shortly after Pilger's body was found.

Russell, convicted in July 1997 of robbery and criminal conspiracy to commit robbery, finished a prison sentence on Oct. 13, state Department of Corrections spokeswoman Lisa Lamb said.

Pilger was a somewhat controversial figure in Kentucky: he pleaded guilty to sexual abuse in 1995 for abusing three brothers and their cousin in 1968 and 1969, when he was their pastor in Morganfield in western Kentucky. The victims were younger than 15 and serving as altar boys at the parish.

After a plea bargain, Pilger received five years' probation beginning in January 1995.

Earlier this year, Pilger was listed in a sex-abuse lawsuit against the dioceses of Lexington and Covington. In the suit, Dan Willett, now 57 and living in Orlando, Fla., claimed he was abused by Pilger in the late 1950s at St. Paul's School in Lexington. The suit was settled.