Community supporters of the Bel Air teen who pleaded guilty in January to fatally shooting his father two years earlier are planning a new legal challenge aimed at overturning the plea deal and exonerating the youth.
Robert C. Richardson III pleaded guilty to manslaughter and a firearms charge in Harford County Circuit Court on Jan. 15, and was sentenced to 18 years in prison. At the time, attorneys on both sides and the teen’s community supporters greeted the arrangement as one of the better possible outcomes a case they called a “tragedy” brought on by years of mental and physical abuse.
One of the keys to their acceptance was Richardson’s sentencing to the Patuxent Institution’s Youth Program in Jessup, a “treatment –oriented” facility with the “goal of assisting the youthful offenders in their transition to viable adult development.”
However, in the months since his sentencing Richardson has been housed at the medium-security Maryland Correctional Training Center in Hagerstown, according to the State Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.
While the court recommended Richardson be incarcerated at the Patuxent Institution as part of the plea deal, according to department spokesman Mark Vernarelli that recommendation does not automatically guarantee acceptance. Each inmate’s case is reviewed before they are accepted into the Patuxent program, and Richardson’s case is still being evaluated, he said.
“Mr. Richardson is on Patuxent’s list for consideration,” Vernarelli wrote in an e-mail to The Dagger. “He has had a mental health assessment and is within the normal timeframe to be considered for the Patuxent Youth Program.”
However, Richardson’s presence at the Hagerstown facility led Eileen Siple, one of the central members of the community group which supported Richardson since his initial incarceration in January 2012, to pursue a new legal option.
As his case proceeded, Siple’s group initially sought Richardson’s removal from the adult population of the Harford County Detention Center to a youth facility. That move was barred by state law which does not allow youths charged as adults with first-degree murder to be housed among others their own age. As Richardson’s case dragged on for more than two years, Siple said she and others also provided him with a link to the outside world and a diversion from his segregated incarceration.
Now, Siple said she has begun collecting funds for a larger ambition: hiring a lawyer specializing in post-conviction proceedings who believes he can overturn Richardson’s plea deal and fully exonerate him based on his history of “child abuse syndrome,” according to the “Free Robert (Bob) Richardson III” Facebook page.
“He’s telling me he believes he has a good case for exoneration,” said Siple, who declined to disclose the attorney’s name until he is officially retained but said he is “well-known” in legal circles.
The cost of that attorney is steep–$25,000. Siple said Richardson himself initially balked at the cost and did not want to pursue the course of action, but was eventually swayed.
“His reaction was not what I expected, to be honest,” a June 2 status update on the Facebook page read. “Bob has accepted that he will spend many years in prison, and he thinks it is a waste of our money to hire another attorney. He will work with the attorney, and by the end of the visit he was admitting to a little bit of optimism, but he still thinks it is too much money. He also thinks there is no way that we could raise that money – I’d like to prove him wrong. Bob does not seem to understand that his life is worth so much more than $25,000, and that we are all in this with him, whatever it takes.
Siple has established a PayPal account to collect donations as well as another fundraiser page. As of Sunday night, more than $2,500 had been raised toward the goal, with a quarter auction also in the works.
Siple said the funds to retain the attorney are needed by the end of the month.
“Quite honestly, I will have it, one way or another,” she said. “Everyday he spends at Hagerstown is a day he should be getting treatment. We can’t wait any longer. He can’t wait any longer.”