ST JOHNS — At long last, the case of The State of Arizona vs. Joshua Cade Richardson is approaching a conclusion after more than three years in court.

Joshua Richardson

Joshua Richardson in court last week with lawyer Cindy Castillo

During a hearing last week in the Apache County Superior Court, Richardson pleaded guilty to the second-degree murder of TerryLynn Collins at her family’s Concho retreat on Oct. 3, 2017. He also pleaded guilty to two counts of aggravated assault against a Collins daughter and the daughter’s friend. Richardson was 14 years old at the time.

According to authorities, Richardson, a wayward youth staying in the Concho area entered the Collins’ residence on Oct. 3, 2017. He was wearing a ski mask and armed with a knife and hockey stick, intending to get the key to a vehicle parked outside which he intended to steal. Mrs. Collins prevented that by holding Richardson at bay with a handgun while the two young women escaped the residence. During the ordeal, TerryLynn called her husband in Mesa, Ernest Collins, Jr.

According to court records, Richardson managed to take the pistol away from Collins and proceeded to shoot her in the forehead, killing the 46-year-old mother and wife, while she was on the phone with her husband. Richardson was arrested on Oct. 4, 2017 and charged as an adult. He as been in jail on a no bond hold since, housed in a Coconino County juvenile detention facility.

Last year, in October, the parties believed that they had an agreement to finally settle the case. The victims agreed to it, but once the agreement was unveiled in court, the Collins family objected to the terms, claiming that the terms on paper were different than what they were promised. That wouldn’t have defeated the agreement because by statute, state constitutional amendment and supreme court rule, the victims have a right to be heard, but don’t have the final say. The prosecutor is charged with that responsibility as a “minister of justice,” say ethical rules and is free to use his or her own judgment in representing the people of Arizona in criminal matters. It can be exasperating for a victim, and politically awkward for a prosecutor, when a prosecutor’s judgment conflicts with the views of a victim, but it can and does happen.

What sunk the initial plea agreement was a legal error wherein the parties agreed to a range of sentence that actually isn’t available by law for the crime they agreed Richardson would plead to. After the victim’s family launched a highly visible letter-writing campaign against the agreement, the county attorney’s office withdrew from it.

Then Richardson’s lawyer, Cindy Castillo of Castillo Law in the Valley asked to be taken off the case. Judge Michael Latham agreed to do that, but Castillo pledged to stay on for further negotiations, but wanted out if the case were set to a jury trial, which settings have massively backed up because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the accompanying restrictions on gathering persons together.

In the meantime, Ernest Collins, Jr. himself a lawyer, had hired a criminal lawyer to look after the Collins family’s victims’ rights, but the State Bar of Arizona suspended that lawyer from practicing law in connection with a matter unrelated to this case.

On Monday, Nov. 2 Richardson pleaded guilty. He is now 17 years old and has matured. He answered the judge respectfully in a strong voice. The court accepted the plea.

The range of sentence the judge has to choose from starts at 10 years and tops out at 20 years in prison. There will be no probation and Richardson will be ordered to pay $14,102 to the victims compensation fund. That is apparently the amount the fund expended in costs such as travel and treatment for the victims. Judge Latham vowed to give the parties “as much time as we need to let everyone feel their voice has been heard.”

Sentencing is set for Dec. 4.

Prosecutor Garrett Whiting will present the state’s argument; Cindy Castillo will appear with her client. Widower Ernest Collins Jr. has already objected to the revised range of sentence as “too lenient,” and will no doubt be front and center at the sentencing hearing.

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