ST. JOHNS — The highly emotional sentencing hearing for now-17 year old Joshua Cade Richardson went long on Tuesday afternoon and was rife with high emotion.
For the Oct. 3, 2017 murder of Terrilynne Collins at her family’s retreat in Concho and two counts of aggravated assault on a Collins daughter and the daughter’s female roommate, Richardson will serve 12 years in prison and will get credit for 1,203 days that he has already served. The plea agreement called for a minimum of 10 years, a maximum of 20.
In the hallway after the hearing the victim’s widowed husband, Ernest Collins, Jr. told the Independent that the sentence is “An abomination, no justice.” He also demanded that Presiding Judge Michael Latham and Deputy County Attorney Garrett Whiting resign, and defense counsel Cindy Castillo and the defense psychologist (who testified, see below) should be “scorned.”
The case started on October 3, 2017 when then 14-year-old Richardson showed up at a property on Apache County Road 8110 in Concho. There were two structures on the property, a mobile home in which a Collins daughter and her roommate were living, and another home occupied by Mrs. Collins and her own 14-year-old son Connor. Richardson was wearing a ski mask duct taped to his neck and was armed with three knives in his belt and he carried a hockey stick. He demanded the keys to a vehicle parked outside.
He also demanded that the roommate place her phone on the floor and tried to hit the daughter in the head with the hockey stick, but only managed to hit her on the shoulder. During the encounter, the roommate was able to retrieve her phone and texted her father who got ahold of Mrs. Collins who was in the other residence. She called her husband Earnest in Mesa and went to the trailer with a four-shot silver handgun. By that time, the two young women had tried to talk some sense into Richardson and it looked at first as if they had succeeded.
When Mrs. Collins appeared in her bathrobe, with the gun, Richardson eventually dropped the weapons, said he was sorry and asked to leave, according to a video from roommate’s phone which the Independent reviewed after the hearing. In fact, at the time the roommate was on the phone to 911, the recording of which the Independent listened to. The operator asked the caller “Can you get away from him? Can you get him to leave?” Dispatcher said that deputies were on their way.
According to the video, Collins told Richardson “You picked the wrong (expletive deleted) home, buddy boy,” as she stood on the inside of the closed front door and pointed the gun at him. “Let me get out,” Richardson is heard to say, “just don’t shoot me.” Mrs. Collins then ordered her daughter and roommate to go to the neighbors’ home and they left the building, with the phone which had been video recording. They heard a gunshot while outside and roommate said that it seemed at one point that Richardson and Mrs. Collins were wrestling on the floor.
Richardson gained control of the gun and Ernest, awakened from a sound sleep, listened from hundreds of miles away as his wife tried to reason with the intruder. He said that she was compassionate to Richarson and begged Richardson “not to shoot.” Judge Latham called Terrilynne’s actions “heroic.”
Then the women outside heard a single gun shot. Collins was pronounced dead at the scene with a single gunshot described as being “between her eyes.” Ernest Collins told the court that the coroner told him that there was no way the coroner could make her look like the 54-year-old wife, mother and grandmother that she had been, and that Collins had to make the very hard decision to not allow the family to see her remains. She was cremated, Ernest said, and her cremains occupy an urn in his room.
About a dozen or so family members, friends and victims either spoke in open court or through Zoom. The victim’s daughter had her sister read the daughter’s statement. Son Connor told the court how he was sleeping in the other residence and was awakened by a deputy. He asked if his mom was okay and said that the “deputy wouldn’t make eye contact,” with him and that’s how he learned that his mother had been murdered. Other speakers told of grievous loss, of birthday and wedding celebrations without Terrilynne, and the long-term horrible affects of her murder on their once-promising lives. Some spoke of lingering mental health struggles.
For Mr. Collins’ part, he point blank told the judge that the plea agreement was way too lenient. That Richardson executed Mrs. Collins in cold blood. That Collins didn’t care if Richardson had been “diddled with,” (explained below) or had to sleep outside, that there is something deranged about Richardson, he is “irredeemably broken,” that Richardson “relished” killing Terrilynne, and that “there is nothing of value in his soul.” He also observed that the defense asks for mercy and compassion, but that Richardson showed none to his victims.
Prosecutor Whiting quipped hauntingly that “There is no perfect justice in the criminal courts in Arizona,” that there are no winners here, but that he believes the plea agreement is appropriate. He did not argue for a particular number of years in prison for Richardson in his oral presentation.
Richardson himself did not make a statement, but there was plenty of information about his really awful life. Throughout his childhood, he was tortured. He was sexually and physically abused by the male figure in the home. The man stuck pins underneath Richardson’s fingernails, chained him to a trailer for trying to run away and had been knocked out cold by his ex-marine father. Latham noted that the physical scars of the abuse were verified by examining doctors.
A forensic psychologist evaluated Richardson. Dr. John Toma appeared by video and testified that his patient may have been exposed to toxic drugs in utero (possibly meth, according to a second doctor) which damaged the child’s brain. He had lived with his parents and sister “off the grid,” and kept out of school. Toma opined that Richardson has impaired functioning in the brain’s “frontal lobe,” which causes him to make “inappropriate decisions.” He predicted based on his decades long experience, that Richardson’s first few years in prison will be an adjustment, and without elaborating, Richardson would “learn undesirable behaviors to survive,” in prison. He concluded by saying that Richardson’s progress thus far shows a capacity for rehabilitation but that the shortest sentence available would be “optimal.” The judge noted later that Dr. Toma’s testimony was not refuted.
Defense lawyer Cindy Castillo said that the defense evidence would show that Richardson desperately needed to get away from his parents, not to be returned there to be beaten or chained for running away again. That he planned to drive to the airport in Phoenix to get a flight to his grandparents’ place in Florida and that he would leave the stolen or “borrowed” car in a parking lot in Phoenix to be returned.
Regarding rehabilitation, Castillo told the court that when Richardson was arrested and housed in a juvenile facility in Flagstaff, that he went through preschool, kindergarten and learned to read. That now that he’s being housed with adults, many of the benefits of the juvenile facility would not be available anymore. She remarked that she will not plead for leniency because in her view, a ten to 20 year sentence is not lenient. Castillo claimed that her client’s reading ability is now on the college level.
Richardson’s grandparents, both 73 years old from Florida, told the court that they had no communication with their daughter, Richardson’s mother, because of her husband, and were not aware of the conditions that Joshua had been raised in. The grandfather, a Vietnam veteran who had “agent orange cancer twice” and a retired cop of 22 years, reviewed the investigation and in his opinion, the gun “accidentally discharged during a wrestling match” with Mrs. Collins.
The risk of a trial by jury
At long last there is an answer to the lingering question about why the county attorney’s office seemed reluctant to try this case to a jury. In fact, Judge Latham told the attendees that the jury would make the decision about Richardson’s guilt, and that juries “can be emotional.” While commenting how difficult this case is for Latham as a father and husband, he said that his take on Richardson from the phone video was one of Richardson not being aggressive, that he apologized for entering the Collins’ home and asked numerous times to leave after he disarmed himself. Latham also mused that, technically speaking, the evidence for the aggravated assault charges was pretty clear; not so much for the murder charge. In the murder charge, a jury would have to unanimously agree, beyond a reasonable doubt that Richardson knowingly or intentionally caused the death of another person, and that could be problematic for the state under the circumstances.
Richardson will serve about nine years. He will not be eligible for a fifteen percent reduction in his sentence for good behavior. Richardson will leave prison at the expected age of 26 years old. TerriLynne Collins is gone forever.