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Alabama woman who faked kidnapping pleads guilty to false reporting

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — An Alabama woman who claimed she was abducted after stopping her car to check on a wandering toddler pleaded guilty on Thursday to charges of giving false information to law enforcement.

News outlets reported that Carlee Russell pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of false reporting to law enforcement and falsely reporting an incident. She was given a suspended six-month sentence which will allow her to avoid jail. She was ordered to pay more than $17,000 restitution.

Her two-day disappearance, and her story of being abducted alongside an interstate highway, captivated the nation before police called her story a hoax.

Russell, accompanied to court by her family and defense lawyers, apologized for her actions.

“I want to genuinely apologize for my actions. I made a grave mistake while trying to fight through various emotional issues and stress. I’m extremely remorseful for the panic, fear and various range of negative emotions that were experienced across the nation," Russell said according to WBRC.

Russell disappeared July 13 after calling 911 to report a toddler beside a stretch of Interstate 459 in the Birmingham suburb of Hoover. She returned home two days later and told police she had been abducted and forced into a vehicle.

Police quickly cast doubt on Russell’s story. Her attorney issued a statement through police acknowledging there was no kidnapping and that she never saw a toddler. In the statement, Russell apologized to law enforcement and the volunteers who searched for her.

The Alabama attorney general's office had argued that Russell should spend time in jail because of the time and energy that law enforcement spent in looking for her.

Jefferson County Circuit Judge David Carpenter told Russell that while her actions caused panic and disruption in the community that it would be a "waste of resources" to put her in jail for misdemeanors, news outlets reported.

Katherine Robertson, Chief Counsel in the Alabama attorney general's office, said Thursday that they "are disappointed, but not surprised" that Russell did not get the requested jail time.

Robertson said “current law provides a weak penalty for false reporting and fails to account for situations, like Ms. Russell’s, that result in a significant law enforcement response.” Alabama legislators this year are considering a bill that would enhance penalties for falsely reporting crimes. The attorney general’s office is supporting that effort.

“The next time law enforcement resources are needlessly wasted in this manner, the offender will be forever labeled a felon,” Robertson said.