While inadmissible in a trial setting, investigators soon began to gather hearsay and polygraph evidence against Richards. In fact, hours into the homicide investigation, allegations of spousal abuse had already surfaced.
Credible or otherwise, it’s clear from police interviews that Pam had complained of domestic violence to at least three members of her social circle and one social worker. Two purported friends of Pam relayed firsthand accounts of assaultive acts. One reported Bill “grabbed Pam by the wrist” and “pushed Pam away.” Another, a neighbor who had loaned money to Pam unbeknownst to her husband, confronted her about her failure to repay the debt in Bill’s presence. In a police interview, the neighbor referenced details of a slap and punch to the abdomen, which were absent in later courtroom testimony conducted in a hearing outside the jury’s presence. A third person echoed Bill’s recollection of an altercation where Pam said that she slammed a telephone receiver against Bill’s hand, reportedly fearing she had broken it.
Additionally, Pam visited a social worker twice in the month before her death. In these sessions, a therapist observed that Pam had very low self-confidence and -esteem, and she was timid. Despite allusions to physical and emotional abuse, Pam confided that Bill was recently receptive to change. In her case notes, the social worker wrote that Pam was “setting limits with spouse with positive results. He was initially listening to her.” The therapist revealed to police that this response was atypical of a battering male.
According to numerous sources, Pam had spent several months vacillating between striking out on her own and resolving her marital problems.
Likely the most acerbic voice belonged to Pam’s boyfriend, whom for the purpose of this story will be known by the pseudonym George Patrick. “Her husband had verbally abused her, beat her continuously,” Patrick told police. “He had threatened to kill her on more than one occasion.” Patrick is a former helicopter flight instructor at Hesperia Airport with whom Pam shared an extramarital relationship during the last year of her life. On the night before Pam’s murder, he claimed he’d urged Pam to leave her husband immediately. “She said, ‘I’ll be okay. It’s my problem, not your problem.’ And I said, ‘No, it’s not your problem, it’s our problem.'” Patrick failed to respond to multiple interview requests for this story.
Patrick was never eyewitness to any abuse. However, almost a year after the homicide and contemporaneous with the first trial, Patrick phoned authorities to arrange contact with one of the two alleged eyewitnesses. Patrick’s former roommate and close friend admitted skepticism relative to the severity of marital abuse. She stated to police that it was her belief Pam was not a battered wife, but may have been struck from time to time.
Richards has adamantly denied any abusive interactions with his wife. He’s refuted at least portions of every episode of abuse allegedly described by Pam through others. “I have no history of mental illness or violence,” he writes from prison. Beyond denials, today he is reticent to unearth intimate details about their marriage. In a December 2009 parole interview, however, Richards appeared more forthcoming. “She was bipolar,” he said of his wife. Depression was another issue he cited. “She said some things about me to some very select people…who I thought I would never come into contact with.” During the interview, he partly attributed her attitude toward him to normal marital venting and the side effects of prescription drugs taken to treat a serious heart condition. “They were just ghosts in her mind,” he said of Pam’s statements.
Police were never able to factually substantiate any of these accusations through 911 calls, protective orders or other direct means. Other than a couple of instances of self-defense, Richards has exhibited no violent tendency in nearly two decades of incarceration.
Only when Richards testified in his own behalf during the mistrials were these allegations ever broached in the courtroom. (They were never introduced at his convicting trial.) In his closing argument, the county prosecutor alluded to Bill’s acknowledgment of physical contact between him and Pam. Without conceding any guilt, the deputy public defender challenged the prosecutor’s implication in a final plea to the jury.
“Battered woman. Man sitting at defendant’s seat. Often those things are connected without any analysis.”
In Patrick’s police interview the day after Pam’s death, he claimed secondhand knowledge of a life insurance policy Bill had allegedly taken out on his wife through his employer. Moreover, Bill was said to have unexpectedly upped it in the two or three weeks leading up to the crime.
“I did not have any life insurance on Pam,” Richards writes. Dangerous hobbies such as off-roading and sharpshooting, as well as a change in tax law applicable to his benefits package, prompted him to open an accidental death and dismemberment policy on himself in January 1993. It contained a 50-percent spousal payout of which he says he was unaware. “This was an attempt to look out for Pam on the chance I got hurt or killed.”
Police records indicate that homicide detectives unsuccessfully attempted to subject Richards to a polygraph examination the day after his wife’s murder. Postponing the exam until a later date, the administrator determined that Richards’ “emotional state” negated its usefulness. Richards committed to undergo the exam, however. “No problem, no problem. I’ll do whatever,” he promised. “You want to fingerprint me, polygraph me, I don’t care. I got nothing to hide. Anything you need. Anything.” Richards even granted permission to search his entire premises without a search warrant during this conversation.
Throughout his dealings with the homicide division, Richards cooperated at every stage of the investigation, but it’s apparent that he began to harbor misgivings as the interrogations continued. In a third interview on Aug. 30, 1993, detectives ratcheted up pressure for Richards to submit to a polygraph exam through repeated requests.
“We need to do that,” Detective Tom Bradford said. Richards replied that he was under a physician’s care, and he’d been prescribed anti-anxiety medication, Ativan, as well as a tranquilizer. In addition, Richards took pills twice daily to normalize a prolapsed heart valve that produced an accelerated heart rate. “On that day [of the exam], the thing is, at least 12 hours to 24 hours, we can’t have you taking tranquilizers…or anti-depressants,” said Detective Norm Parent, the case agent and lead detective on the homicide. After Richards explained that he was on the verge of a nervous breakdown and abstaining from his heart pills would cause erratic heartbeats, detectives insisted he consume only those meds at the time of testing. Parent failed to respond to multiple interview requests for this story.
“Like I said, Bill, we got a boss to deal with and we have to eliminate you,” Parent began.
“I totally understand,” Richards answered. “I’m just telling you, knowing me, my physical condition, I don’t know whether it’ll do much good.” He then reiterated his consistent compliance with every police request.
“We appreciate everything you have done, but again, we have a boss to deal with. My sergeant says, ‘Eliminate him.’ You know? Okay?”
When Richards failed the polygraph exam four days later, he was booked into sheriff’s custody.