Left: Robert C. Richardson III. Right: Richardson at the time of his arrest on Jan. 10, 2012. (Photos courtesy “Free Robert Richardson III” Facebook page/Harford County Sheriff’s Office.)
The Bel Air teenager accused of the January 2012 murder of his father in their Moores Mill Road home pleaded guilty to manslaughter and a firearms charge in Harford County Circuit Court Wednesday, and was sentenced to 18 years in prison.
Robert C. Richardson III, now 18, entered his plea in an hour-long hearing before Judge Stephen M. Waldron Wednesday afternoon. As part of an agreement, prosecutors reduced an initial charge of first-degree murder to manslaughter, for which Richardson was sentenced to the maximum of 10 years. He also pleaded guilty to the use of a handgun in commission of a felony, and was sentenced to the maximum of 20 years with all but eight years suspended; he will serve the sentences consecutively as required by statute. When released, he will face five years of supervised probation.
In court, both Assistant State’s Attorney Diane Tobin and Richardson’s attorneys, Stefanie McArdle and Kay Beehler of the Office of the Public Defender, called the case a “tragedy” brought on by years of sustained physical and mental abuse. Both sides said the elder Richardson’s death could have been avoided if family members and others in the community who knew of the abuse had stepped in sooner.
“This all could have been avoided,” Tobin said. “The state believes there were some people who had an idea of what was going on.”
Richardson openly wept as the statement of facts in the plea agreement was read into the record, as did many of his nearly two dozen supporters present in the courtroom and members of his father’s family, including Robert Richardson Jr.’s mother, sister, and brother. Since the beginning of the case, Richardson has been supported by a circle of community members who sought the removal of his case to the juvenile justice system.
Richardson will initially be incarcerated at the Patuxent Institution in Jessup, a maximum-security, “treatment oriented” facility, and be placed in its Youth Program. By statute, Richardson would not be eligible for parole until he has served five years on the handgun charge, but Waldron ordered that he not be eligible for release until half of his sentence has been served. However, Beehler noted that the Patuxent Institute has its own Board of Review which evaluates inmates’ progress.
Both Tobin and Beehler said Richardson suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and major depressive disorder as well as cannabis use disorder, stemming from verbal and physical abuse at the hands of his father. Richardson told Waldron during a series of questions that he is currently taking anti-depressants for his condition.
During the hearing, Tobin read aloud a pair of victim’s impact statements from Richardson’s aunt and grandmother, the latter of whom addressed him by his nickname, “Bear.”
“We all thought the world of Bear and thought he was a good kid. We knew he was using marijuana and saw how it changed him. Bobby’s [Richardson Jr.’s] loss was senseless and could have been avoided,” she wrote. “I lost both my son and grandson because of what you did, Bear.”
Richardson himself chose not to make a statement when offered the opportunity. Appearing somewhat thin and pale in a blue button-down shirt and olive slacks with an outgrown buzz cut and a wispy mustache, Richardson initially read along silently as the statement of facts was presented. Eventually he held his head down with hands folded over his nose and mouth, and finally wiped away tears with tissue offered by McArdle. More quiet tears followed as the statements from his family were read.
The plea hearing came a week before a scheduled round of preliminary hearings in the case, and a month before a two-week trial was set to begin. Richardson has been incarcerated at the Harford County Detention Center since his arrest in the early morning hours of Jan. 9, 2012, and will receive 736 days of credit for time served, Waldron said.
“We’ve negotiated for quite awhile,” Beehler said of the plea agreement after the hearing. “It’s the right result.”
“It sounds so odd, but he’s a gentle soul,” she later added. “He’s genuinely remorseful.”
Tobin said the plea likewise appealed to her office, as Richardson’s defense would have centered around a selection of expert witnesses prepared to testify to his mental ailments and a pattern of longstanding abuse, resulting in a “partial self-defense” claim.
“After hearing information provided by the defense…the state was in the position of knowing it had to prove abuse did not take place,” Tobin said. “As in every case, only two people really know what happened in that house.”
Beehler said social services were called to the home only once in the time before the murder.
“There were people in the community who knew, and no one said much of anything,” she said. “Hopefully the next 18 years of his life will be better that the first.”
The statement of facts presented at the hearing offered new details of the events of the night of Jan. 9, 2012, calling them the culmination of a weeks-long desire by Richardson, then 16, to kill his father, age 58 at the time of his death.
After returning home with his father at about 8:30 p.m. that night, Richardson began talking with a friend on his computer, eventually deciding to commit the act because he was “tired of the way [Richardson Jr.] treated him.” According to the document, Richardson took a swig of rum from a bottle stashed in his bedroom, and shot his father in the back of the head with a .38 caliber revolver while the elder Richardson was lying on his side in his bed watching TV; according to a medical examiner’s finding, it was “not a close range shot.”
Richardson then took the family vehicle, a Chevy S10 truck, for a drive and picked up two teenage friends, identified in the statement of facts as “J.K.”, age 14, and “D.B.,” age 16. The trio returned to the house, where they helped Richardson pack to “run away” and wrapped his father’s body in a bedsheet, dragging it to the truck.
The three took the body to a home in the 800 block of Gilbert Road in Aberdeen owned by Richardson’s uncle. There, “J.K.” told investigators he watched as Richardson and “DB” left Richardson Jr.’s body partially submerged in a pond on the property. The three then smoked marijuana and dropped “DB” off at home, while the remaining two stopped to pick up eye drops for “JK” to cover his drug use before dropping him off at home as well.
According to the statement of facts, Richardson drove through the remainder of the night, wandering across the border into Pennsylvania before returning to Maryland.
In the meantime, a Harford County Sheriff’s Deputy responded to the Richardson home at approximately 10:45 p.m. following up on a call by the younger Richardson’s sister Abigail, who told police Richardson had contacted her and said he shot his father. The deputy found bloodstains on the front porch, tire tracks in the yard, and was able to see bloodstains inside the home; when backup arrived, the deputies forced their way into the home.
Authorities interviewed Abigail, who agreed to call Richardson on his cell phone. The teen answered, but would not divulge his location and hung up when a deputy came on the line. He later discarded his phone; authorities were able to trace the phone and recovered it on the ground in the area of the 1300 block of Thomas Run Road.
Richardson was next spotted at approximately 6 a.m. the following morning in the Jarrettsville Road area by a Maryland State Trooper on his way to work at the Bel Air Barracks. Identifying Richardson’s vehicle, the trooper followed it, waiting for backup. As other State Police units began to set up around the vehicle, Richardson attempted to flee. The pursuit continued through downtown Bel Air before ending when Richardson crashed into an outlying structure in the parking lot of the Bel Air United Methodist Church. During initial interviews, Richardson told investigators where to find his father’s body.
“There are no words in the English language to describe this tragedy…we keep using that word,” Waldron said. “The loss will never end. This is a horrible tragedy.”
Following the hearing, both the elder Richardson’s family and the teen’s supporters openly displayed emotion at the conclusion of the two-year old case.
“He’s still my nephew and I love him very much,” the younger Richardson’s aunt, Kathy Hall, told The Dagger. She added that she was satisfied with the outcome, but that others were not. “My mom misses her son.”
Eileen Siple, one of the leaders of Richardson’s support group, said she likewise accepted the plea bargain, but maintained that Richardson’s case should have been handled by juvenile courts.
“I’m satisfied that this was the best that he could get, but it was only the best that he could get because the system is broken,” she said. “When the prosecutor acknowledges that, that’s pretty powerful.”
“No child should be thrown into adult court,” she added. “His father didn’t deserve to die but [Robert] didn’t deserve the life he was dealing with.”
The full Agreed Statement of Facts document appears below.
Contributing Editor Cindy Mumby provided additional reporting for this story.
From the Office of the State’s Attorney:
On January 15, 2014, Robert Richardson III, age 18, of Bel Air, Maryland, entered guilty pleas to Manslaughter and to Use of a Firearm in the Commission of a Felony or Crime of Violence for the shooting death of his father, Robert Richardson, Jr. on January 9, 2012, in Bel Air, Maryland. Mr. Richardson was sentenced to serve thirty (30) years in the Maryland Division of Correction, with all but eighteen (18) years of that sentence suspended. The plea was taken in the Circuit Court for Harford County. The Court is recommending that his sentence be served in the Youthful Offender Program of the Division of Corrections, located at the Patuxent Institution. Upon his release, he will serve five years of supervised probation.
“This was a terrible tragedy that did not have to take place” said Diane Adkins Tobin, Deputy State’s Attorney. “There are people who were aware of his situation but did nothing and did not notify authorities”. The victim’s mother and the defendant’s grandmother told the court that she lost both her son and her grandson that day, and that her son’s life was not his to take.
State’s Attorney Joe Cassilly stated, “The system is in place to help teenagers like Richardson if someone has the courage to speak out.”