In the early hours of the morning of Oct. 3, 2017, Defendant Joshua Cade Richardson illegally invaded my daughter’s trailer while wearing dark clothing and a ski mask and carrying several knives and a hockey stick. Richardson immediately assaulted my daughter and her roommate, Larissa, threatened them and demanded they give him the keys to a car or he would harm them. Richardson took their cell phones, held them hostage and terrorized these young women. Somehow, they were able to distract him long enough that they were able to get a message to Larissa’s father about what was happening, and he alerted my wife, TerriLynne Collins. TerriLynne grabbed a firearm and went to confront this dangerous home invader.
I was ripped from a sound sleep in the early morning hours by a call made from my wife’s phone. When I answered the call, I did not immediately hear my wife’s voice but instead heard voices. I realized very quickly that my wife was holding an intruder at gunpoint and that he was very hostile and threatening. Not wanting to disconnect from the call, I immediately conference called my neighbor to ask that she send her husband armed to the trailer to assist my wife. I also called 911 and asked for sheriffs to be dispatched to the trailer. I was told that they were already en route.
I hung up and went back to listening to the voices. I could hear my wife pleading with her murderer not to do “this,” that he was young and stupid and didn’t have to do this, that he didn’t have to make this mistake and that he had his full life ahead of him. Despite being held at gunpoint, he kept inching closer to my wife, demanding that if she was going to shoot him that she shoot him in the head. Repeatedly, she instructed him to step back as police were on their way.
Knowing that police were speeding to the trailer and that his arrest was imminent and his time was running out, Richardson attacked my wife and lunged for the gun and I could hear my wife yell, “run girls, run, run to Barbara’s.” Helplessly, I could only listen as my daughter and her roommate ran from the trailer until the phone disconnected. I did not hear the gunshot that ended my wife’s life but my daughter and her roommate did. And they ran to safety.
Richardson executed my wife with one shot to the center of her forehead. He killed her in cold blood, not in self-defense, to avoid being arrested for breaking into my daughter’s trailer and assaulting her and her roommate. He executed my wife, a God-fearing, Christian mother of six children, grandmother of two, daughter, sister and friend to all those she encountered and amazing woman.
By the time police arrived, my wife had been murdered and Richardson had fled. Richardson’s parents had reported him missing and police investigating my wife’s murder took photos of Richardson and videos taken from inside the trailer to them. They quickly identified the masked murderer to police as their son, Joshua Cade Richardson. He left behind the ski mask and stole and changed clothes from the local Walmart which were recovered and have his DNA on them. Identity of my wife’s murderer is not in question. It is undisputed that Joshua Cade Richardson murdered/executed my wife.
Despite there being no dispute as to the identity of my wife’s murderer, Defense counsel, Cindy Castillo, raised the issue of identity as a defense. Then, Ms. Castillo raised Richardson’s competency to assist in his defense as a way to avoid responsibility for his murdering my wife. Judge Perkins quickly found Richardson competent and able to stand trial. Ms. Castillo reportedly hired experts for, DNA, forensics and to review the photos/videos taken in the trailer. As a last desperate gasp, Ms. Castillo asserted self-defense as a possible legal theory for Richardson’s defense. However, self-defense under A.R.S. 13-404, doesn’t apply because Richardson illegally entered my daughter’s trailer, assaulted her and her roommate and was being lawfully held at gunpoint until police arrived. Murdering my wife so he could escape arrest and incarceration is NOT self-defense under any statute. And no jury in their right mind would agree that it is.
The County Attorney and Defense Counsel sought a “settlement conference” to try to reach a Plea Agreement. With the guidance of the County Attorney, we understood that someone under the age of 18 could not receive the death penalty or life in prison without parole. However, a recent Court of Appeals decision indicated that a minor could receive consecutive sentences for multiple crimes committed at one time. For all of the criminal charges he was charged with, Richardson could get 65 years in prison. Richardson could get 25 years if the sentences were run concurrently.
Despite there being no dispute as to his identity and no legal defense to the murder of my wife, Deputy County Attorney Garrett Whiting offered to settle the case for 20 years in prison with a probationary period of 7 years following his release. That offer was rejected by Richardson and Ms. Castillo. A second settlement conference was requested and ordered.
At the second settlement conference, we, Jim Blakney (TerriLynne’s father), Dottie Blakney (TerriLynne’s stepmother) and myself, were told by Deputy County Attorney that he was going to make an offer of one of two sentencing ranges, either 10-20 years or 5-25 years. No real explanation was given as to why these greatly reduced sentencing ranges were being made other than there was a concern for “jury nullification” due to Defendant’s age at the time of the murder. Jury nullification is illegal and unethical to be argued by Defendant and his counsel. Despite our objections to the ranges, the Deputy County Attorney insisted that he was going to make an offer of one of these ranges and ultimately offered 5-25 years as the sentencing range. Simultaneously, we were told that the criminal charges would be reduced from 1st Degree Felony Murder and the remaining charges to 2nd Degree Murder and 2 counts of Aggravated Assault. As Victims, we agreed not to object to the Plea Agreement but expressed that we were not happy with it. A Change of Plea hearing was scheduled.
Two hours prior to the Change of Plea hearing, I received a letter from the County Attorney indicating that the Plea Agreement would be for Manslaughter, not 2nd Degree Murder as agreed, and one count of Aggravated Assault-Dangerous and one count of Aggravated Assault-Non-Dangerous, again, not what we were told the charges would be. I contacted the County Attorney and objected to the Plea Agreement as not being what was agreed-to. I was told by the Deputy County Attorney that when he went to check the state mandatory minimum sentences for the charges, that 2nd Degree Murder was 10 years and didn’t fit the sentencing range that was agreed to. In fact, I was told that the Manslaughter charge didn’t even fit the sentencing range since it was 7 years, still outside the 5 years but that he was able to get Ms. Castillo to agree to it. I found it hard to believe that a career prosecutor wouldn’t know what the state mandatory minimums were prior to agreeing to a sentencing range.
At the Change of Plea hearing, I was told that the County Attorney and Defense attorney would inform the Court of the discrepancy between the state mandatory minimum for Manslaughter and the sentencing range. That did not occur. Neither the County Attorney or the Defense attorney raised the issue with Judge Perkins at the Change of Plea hearing. I vociferously objected to the Plea Agreement as a travesty and not what was agreed-to at the Settlement Conference. Judge Perkins did not accept or reject the Plea Agreement and instead deferred to Judge Higgins who would be the sentencing judge.
A Scheduling Conference with Judge Higgins was set and held. At the conference, the issue of Victims’ objection to the Plea Agreement was raised. The Court was told by me and my victims’ right counsel, Michael Urbano, that the state mandatory minimum sentence for Manslaughter did not meeting the sentencing range and that it would be subject to a Post-Conviction Remedy motion and would almost certainly be granted. Again, neither the County Attorney, nor the Defense attorney brought this to the Court’s attention. Instead of withdrawing the Plea Agreement and fixing its deficiencies by changing the sentencing range so that 2nd Degree Murder would be the minimum sentence in the range, the Deputy County Attorney has chosen to further reduce the charges from Manslaughter to Negligent Homicide. A case that is a 1st Degree Felony Murder case, a case of cold-blooded murder by execution with no defense to the facts is now being treated as a Negligent Homicide case. The intentional murder and execution of a beautiful wife, mother, grandmother, daughter, and sister is being trivialized as a five-year offense for negligent homicide. It is an outrage.
Is this the type of leadership that the residents of Apache County expect from their County Attorney and his deputies? Reducing 1st degree felony murder to negligent homicide when no legal defense exists? If the Defendant had not been a minor when he murdered and executed my wife, he would be subject to the death penalty or life without parole. Instead of seeking the maximum punishment available, instead of seeking justice for the family and victims, to make a Plea Agreement that is this weak shocks the conscience and does a grave disservice to Apache County. Where is the Justice?