ALTOONA, Pa. (WTAJ) — The man involved in the killing of Corrections Officer Rhonda Russell has been sentenced to life in prison.

Christopher Aikens pleaded guilty to 2nd-degree murder in October and was sentenced to life in prison on Monday, Nov. 13. He was also handed down 60-120 years for other related charges by Judge Elizabeth Doyle, the Blair County District Attorney’s Office announced.

The sentence comes down almost two years to the day — Nov. 17, 2021 — when Officer Russell was taken hostage at Central Court and killed when Aikens pulled her into the line of fire.

Aikens was an inmate at Blair County Prison for possession of firearms and controlled substances when he was taken to central court. Aikens asked to use the bathroom and took advantage of Russell being the only CO watching over the inmates.

Aikens took Russell’s sidearm and pointed it towards Sergeant George Bistline, who heard the struggle and was quick to respond. Bistline fired his weapon towards Aiken’s shoulder, only for him to pull Russell into the line of fire. The bullet struck and killed her. Despite officers doing their best to render aid, Russell was rushed to UPMC Altoona where she was declared dead.

On the morning of jury selection, Aikens pleaded guilty to all the charges against him.

“Almost two years ago to the day, Officer Russell fought for her life and lost the battle to a previously convicted felon during an escape attempt. Today, in exchange for the life of Officer Russell, the court sentenced Christopher Aikens to be housed, fed, kept, and clothed in a State Correctional Institute for the rest of his natural life. While it will not return Officer Russell to the
arms of her family, it will hopefully allow them the small comfort of at least knowing that her murderer will never walk free again. We gratefully thank the State Police for an untiring investigation that helped pave the way to today’s sentencing. And, finally, we ask the community to take a moment today to recognize all of our law enforcement officers: they stand between our citizens and criminals like Mr. Aikens. In Blair County especially, as they did in Central Court on November 17, 2021, these officers stand strong. We appreciate their courage.”

District Attorney Peter Weeks and First Assistant District Attorney Nichole Smith, joint statement

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Through the investigation, Sergeant Bistline also passed away.

Aiken’s life sentence will run concurrently with his 60-120 years for other charges related to Russell’s death.