ST. JOHNS — Sixteen year-old accused murderer Joshua Richardson of Concho will plead guilty on November 4 in the Apache County Superior Court. The announcement came late Wednesday afternoon as visiting Judge Robert Higgins from Navajo County concluded the second lengthy settlement conference between the parties. The first settlement conference last month produced no results.
Richardson, who was 14 at the time, was charged as an adult.
Richardson is accused of murdering Terrilynne Collins, 55, a wife and mother, at the Collins’ family retreat in Concho on October 3, 2017. At the time, Richardson was a neighbor. He was also charged with burglary, aggravated assault, attempted armed robbery and attempted theft. He has been held without bond in a juvenile jail facilty in Coconino County.
Present at the conference were lead prosecutor Garrett Whiting, Richardson’s defense counsel Cindy Castillo, Mrs. Collins’ widower Ernest Collins, Jr., his companion, and the deceased’s parents. No one appeared on Richardson’s side. He sat with Castillo at the defense table in the well of court, a well-groomed and very young-looking boy. He was chained at the waist and ankles, and was dressed in jail-issue orange trousers and a black and white striped jail tunic — an armed detention sergeant was never out of sight.
Settlement conferences have become favored by the parties and court administrators as a way of avoiding costly, lengthy and unpredictable jury trials. The rules of court require that the conference judge will not be the judge at trial; thus the presence of the visiting judge. The conference begins with both sides sequestered in different private rooms, meaning that the public can be in the courtroom only. There is no record of what is said in private. Like the last conference, Judge Higgins shuttled between the rooms, and this time it was successful.
It started at 2 p.m. and at 3:40 the judge took the bench and announced that the parties had an “agreement;” a change of plea hearing would be set, he said. He did not disclose the terms, but did mention that the plea agreement will not specify a specific number of years that Richardson will serve in prison; rather, there will be an agreed-upon range of sentencing that sentencing Judge C. Allen Perkins will be bound to.
Depending on what charge or charges Richardson will plead to, by statute, there will be a minimum and maximum term of years.
This is an example of one branch of government (the legislature) putting checks on a co-equal branch (the judiciary). The state did not seek the death penalty; that penalty is not available in this case. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that putting to death a person for a crime committed while the person was a child constitutes a violation of the Eighth Amendment’s guarantee against cruel and unusual punishment. Besides, Arizona state law prohibits it.
But Richardson could face life in prison. The agreement for a range of sentence gives both sides the opportunity to present arguments and testimony to the court to support the prison term each side believes is just. Such a presentation is called an “aggravation-mitigation hearing” and will take place at sentencing, typically about 30 days after Richardson pleads guilty.