The Bel Air teenager accused of murdering his father should be moved to a facility better suited to his age and needs or tried as a juvenile, his attorneys argued in Harford County Circuit Court on Friday.
Defense counsel for Robert Richardson, 17, said he is “isolated, absolutely isolated” at the Harford County Detention Center, where he has been incarcerated since allegedly shooting his father to death in January 2011, dumping his body in an Aberdeen pond, and leading police in an early-morning chase.
Richardson’s attorneys argued three motions at a hearing before Judge Stephen Waldron. The first two attempted to move Richardson’s case into the juvenile system, based around the Supreme Court’s decision last year in Miller v. Alabama, which held that mandatory penalties of life without the possibility of parole for juveniles was unconstitutional.
Though centered around a decision involving the sentencing phase, Richardson’s attorneys said he would be “irreparably harmed” if, in the event of his conviction, waiting until the sentencing or appeal process to present the argument.
Instead, they looked to extend the protections of Miller and urged Waldron to either declare state statutes requiring Richardson to be tried on first degree murder charges as an adult unconstitutional or, failing that, to strike the first degree charges in favor of a charge of second degree murder.
Assistant State’s Attorney Donald Walter countered that Miller only prohibits the specific mandatory sentence of life without parole for juveniles, and does not strike down other mandatory sentences or statues based on the age of the accused. In Maryland, he said, the court is has the option to sentence a juvenile found guilty of first degree murder to life with the possibility of parole.
Furthermore, he said the state statutes requiring Richardson to be tried as an adult were valid given the nature of his alleged crime, which involved “placing a weapon to the back of his [father’s] head and essentially executing him.”
“We’re not discussing shoplifting, a [drug] case, even a firearms charge,” Walter said. “It’s the most severe crime we have jurisdiction over, the most severe crime one person can commit on another.”
The third motion presented by Richardson’s attorneys sought his removal from the Harford County Detention Center, which Assistant Public Defender Kay Beehler said “does not have the ability to meet the needs of juvenile inmates.”
Beehler said Richardson does not have the sight and sound separation required between juvenile and adult inmates in his current housing in a single-occupancy cell in one of the detention center’s direct supervision units, which also houses adults.
However, Harford County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Edward Hopkins said that requirement only applies to suspects at the time of their initial arrest, not for juveniles who have been charged as adults.
Beehler urged Waldron to remove Richardson to a facility, either juvenile-oriented or an adult detention center in another county better equipped to meet his educational and counseling needs. In particular, she said she had been in touch with the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School in Baltimore County, a detention facility for juveniles which expressed a willingness to house Richardson.
Walter responded that Richardson is currently allowed to have phone calls, letters, and visitors. Walter’s statements were later echoed in an e-mail response by Hopkins to questions posed by The Dagger. Hopkins added that Richardson has the ability to talk to other inmates, has access to the facility commissary, and “can continue his education if he wants to,” but did not specify exactly how he might do so.
Waldron, largely quiet through the proceedings, interjected that moving Richardson to a facility such as Hickey School may actually place him in greater danger than he is in currently.
“I don’t see Mr. Richardson striking fear into the heart of anyone at Hickey,” Waldron said. “Quite the opposite.”
“I’m just trying to share my experience of 25 years on the bench,” he added. “I’ve had defendants begging, ‘don’t send me back [there], I don’t want to be raped in the shower again.’”
Following the hearing, Beehler dismissed Waldron’s concerns.
“There could be a car accident on the way to transporting him to Hickey, too—there’s always hypotheticals,” she said, reiterating that, at the Harford County Detention Center, her client lacked the development and counseling opportunities he needs.
Richardson’s trial has been delayed several times, most recent from next month until Oct. 21. Beehler said an additional, slight postponement beyond that date may be possible due to the unavailability of a state’s witness.