ST JOHNS — In October, 2017 14-year-old Joshua Richardson was charged with murdering TerryLynn Collins at her family’s retreat in Concho. After a long discovery process and three settlement conferences, the parties believed they had an agreement whereby Richardson would plead guilty to second degree murder and aggravated assault charges. The sentencing judge was to choose how much prison time Richardson would serve, ranging from five years to 25 years.
But that agreement ran into trouble when, in order to have the five to 25 year range of incarceration available, the type of murder charge the defendant would plead to had to be reduced to lower than first degree murder, lower than second degree, lower than manslaughter, all the way down to negligent homicide.
By pleading guilty to negligent homicide, Richardson would merely have to admit that he accidentally shot Mrs. Collins in the face in her own home, by mistake.
Ernest Collins, Jr., Mrs. Collins’ widower and her surviving family strongly objected, claiming that such an arrangement was not what was promised them, and the Apache County Attorney’s Office ultimately withdrew from the plea agreement. Collins told the Independent that the family would just rather go through a trial and finally get closure. The family has had more than enough court dates, negotiations, and the drawn-out trauma of this long, tragic case.
There is yet another case management conference set for April 6. But Richardson’s attorney, Cindy Castillo of Castillo Law PLLC from the Valley has filed a motion to release her client who is now 16, pending trial, citing the COVID-19 pandemic and the growing number of public health advisories which support such a move. Richardson, after all, has not been convicted of anything. The motion, obtained by the Independent, appears to be a standard, boiler-plate type motion that defense attorneys everywhere are probably filing for every one of their incarcerated, pre-trial defendants. Because they are lawyers, they have a sworn duty to work in their clients’ best interest, and the argument for release under the circumstances is not without merit.
In addition, if a not-yet-sentenced client dies in jail from the coronavirus, the first inquiry will be whether the sheriff, jail, the county health agency etc. was negligent. But if a lawyer didn’t even try to get the inmate released, that may reflect poorly on the lawyer.
In Richardson’ case, he wants to stay in Florida with his grandfather until the case is concluded. The prosecutor is expected to vigorously object; Collins certainly does. In the meantime, if the parties agree to take this long-pending case to a jury trial, it is unclear when a panel of potential jurors can be assembled. Several dozens of potential jurors will be summoned in order to empanel a jury of 12, plus at least four alternate jurors. In light of the new court guidelines restricting in-person contact in the courthouse, the prospect of that happening anytime soon is uncertain.