Of the challenges faced by law enforcement, few were more of a priority than establishing opportunity. Detective John Navarro was tasked with recreating Richards’ 44.8-mile drive home from his workplace at Schuler Manufacturing in Corona to Hesperia. Richards’ time card showed he clocked out at 11:03 p.m. Departing the parking lot in an unmarked car at 11:06 p.m, Navarro duplicated Richards’ normal route, traversing the Cajon Pass along I-15 and Route 138 before exiting onto dirt access roads. Traveling with the flow of traffic at approximately 75 mph, Navarro testified that he arrived in 41 minutes, or at 11:47 p.m. Deputy District Attorney Michael Risley, the lead prosecutor on every trial, contends that 75 mph may even be conservative. “In 1993, if you’re going 80 mph up the Cajon Pass, you’re getting passed,” Risley says. “That’s just reality. And that’s the wonderful thing about jurors: They get it.”
Richards’ first 911 call was received at 11:58 p.m. Lengthening an 11-minute window, the prosecution argued that the time span before Deputy Mark Nourse’s arrival at 12:38 a.m., as law enforcement’s first responder at the scene, afforded Richards an extra 40 minutes free of interference. It was calculated that he had a grand total of 51 minutes.
During the final interrogation, polygraph examiner Kathleen Cardwell pressed Richards on the issue.
“Listen, you told me, when we were talking, that you should leave by 2:00, 2:15 at the latest to get to work. Now if you could leave at 2:15…”
“Two o’clock. At 2:15 I have to speed like a bat out of hell.”
“But you can make it. You told me that.”
“I can make it. Yes, I can make it in 45 to 50 minutes if I’m flying like a bat out of hell. Driving normally, no.”
Homicide detectives didn’t report to the crime scene until after 3 a.m. At that stage, Lieutenant Hobart Gray made a decision not to enter the scene until daylight to prevent evidence contamination in the darkness. Before 3 a.m, Nourse was alone with Richards for a considerable time. Nourse’s time-of-death observations were not only the lynchpin in the People’s case, but they were also frequently used to illustrate Richards’ alleged lack of credibility.
After making contact with Bill, Nourse testified that upon initial inspection of the supine body, he rapidly checked for a pulse and determined that the victim was deceased. According to Nourse’s testimony, Bill advised him that Pam was “stone-cold dead. You don’t have to check on her. She’s been dead a long time. I know that because the battery is dead on the Toyota [motor home].” Nourse’s incident report indicated “the victim’s scalp and entire head of hair was completely covered in very fresh blood, almost to the point it looked as though her hair had been dyed with red dye.” Throughout the report blood is described as “bright red,” “wet,” “very damp,” “liquid” and “fresh.” In addition, he testified that blood in the hair had not begun to dry or mat, and blood pooled in nearby soil had just started to be absorbed.
Nourse testified that Pam’s wrist was pliant and her arm was limp. He also stated she exhibited no signs of rigor mortis or lividity. During the pretrial hearing, Nourse said he’d received police academy training in rigor mortis and lividy. Rigor mortis is a chemical reaction that causes the stiffening of joints and muscles and is undetectable until about a couple of hours after death. Fully developed rigidity occurs at about 12 hours. Lividity is the purplish-red discoloration of the skin due to internal settling of blood and heavy objects at the lowest portion of the body’s position. The pattern of lividity can shift by degrees until eight to 12 hours after death, when it becomes fixed.
“The victim did not appear to have been dead very long as she was not warm but she was not cold,” Nourse entered in his report. In testimony, Nourse noted that it was a very cold night.
Previously, as a rescue fire fighter in the Air Force, Nourse testified that he was designated as a triage instructor and EMT. Triage is the medical response to a catastrophic event where there are multiple injuries and/or deaths. In court, he was permitted to testify that he would have anecdotally placed Pam’s time of death in a category equivalent to someone who had died in his arms, per his military experience.
Risley, however, downplays the impact of Nourse’s time-of-death testimony versus the general significance of contradiction. “Mr. Richards came home, and he was trying to convince law enforcement that, ‘Golly gee, I got home from work, and my wife must’ve been dead for awhile ’cause she was cold.’ Nourse was like, ‘No, no, no. Wait a minute, she wasn’t that cold.’ That’s my interpretation. It was more to refute what Mr. Richards was telling law enforcement.”
Forensic pathology attempts to establish cause of death and the circumstances surrounding that death. As a forensic pathologist, county Chief Medical Examiner Frank Sheridan performed Pam Richards’ autopsy. In court he recited a savage litany of injuries to a victim measuring 5 feet 10 inches and weighing 126 pounds. Extensive defensive bruises and abrasions where found on her hands and forearms. Lacerations appeared on the lip, face, both ears and on the inner part of the right eye. Bruising was found on the lip, upper gum, torso, arms and legs. Abrasions were visible along the jaw line and down the neck. Some abrasions were postmortem, or inflicted after death. There was massive fracturing of the skull’s left side, also deemed to have occurred postmortem. Bruising and hemorrhages to the right side of the scalp had “every potential to be fatal.” However, due to severe hemorrhaging involving all layers of the neck, and fractures to either side of the hyoid bone (horseshoe-shaped bone in the neck above the larynx), Sheridan ruled Pam’s cause of death as both manual strangulation and blunt-force trauma.
There was no external or internal evidence of nonconsensual sex. Visual examination revealed pitting on Pam’s back not present on her front. It was concluded that these indentations were illustrative of the body’s positioning and caused by pebbles or rocks in the soil. Richards told police he believed that upon discovery of his wife’s body, it was lying facedown with a cinder block leaning against the head. “Science proves that when she died, she was lying on her back,” Risley says. “When we put on the testimony of the forensic pathologist to say this is what it is, they couldn’t contest it. They had no comeback.”
From the witness stand, Deputy Nourse claimed he grew suspicious of Bill’s behavior almost from the start. In fact, at one point he chose to record a portion of their conversation on audiotape, without Richards’ knowledge. “One minute he would be very calm, cool, collected, like he had rehearsed or was reading from a script,” he told the court. Nourse described wild mood swings, as Richards switched from sobbing and falling to the ground to volunteering blow-by-blow speculation about what transpired that night. “Very deliberate. Very precise.”
On Risley’s direct examination of Nourse, he asked whether he thought the body was “stone cold,” as previously ascribed to Richards’ perception of the body’s temperature. Echoing the incident report, he responded confidently in the negative. At least once in the first police interview, and reportedly to Nourse earlier at the scene, Richards stated that he first noticed Pam’s body from the porch because the moonlight reflected off her naked calves. Nourse testified that the night sky was “completely overcast” and there was “no moonlight at all.” Richards also told Nourse of a bloody stepping stone on a dark hillside that the patrolman testified he could not see.
When Nourse’s expertise to offer specialized medical testimony was challenged by Hal Smith, Risley affirmed his witness’ background. “I know what he is going to say and I know he is qualified,” he confirmed before San Bernardino County Superior Court Judge Margaret Powers. Lastly, as Nourse restated pieces of Richards’ commentary, he quoted a remark about the removal of Pam’s jeans. They were found inside-out, slung over a gasoline container in front of the generator. Nourse testified that Richards stated they didn’t come off easy. “Trust me on this.”
As the homicide team labored to reconstruct details of that evening, incongruous elements at the crime scene eventually led investigators to surmise Richards had manipulated it. The prosecution argued that the defendant staged a false scenario of rape—victim’s nakedness and clothing discarded—to divert the focus away from himself. It was a potential motive Richards consistently puzzled over in the course of police interviews.
Inside the motor home on a short bench, police found two bloodstained pillows and bits of dirt and vegetation. A small space between the generator shed and a steep upslope was one obvious area of activity. Blood-soaked rocks, disturbed soil, an acrylic fingernail fragment, a lone canvas shoe and various puddles of blood were photographed there.
Daniel Gregonis played a key role as the county criminalist whose on-scene duties included collecting and documenting evidence for further analysis. There was consensus among the investigative team that the bleeding victim had been carried into the motor home. No blood trails connected the areas of activity. In Risley’s summation, the prosecutor unfurled a hypothetical sequence of events to make sense of the chaotic scene. Near the generator, it was the People’s position that Richards attacked and strangled his wife. He then carried her into the motor home, laid her down temporarily and subsequently carried her back outside. To cover up the initial strangulation, he finished her off by throwing bricks onto her head. Gregonis declined to be interviewed for this story, citing his employer’s nondisclosure policy.
When Nourse ordered Richards to stay out of the crime scene, he replied that he had already touched all the evidence trying to figure out what happened.
Authored in 2009 by the National Research Council, “Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States” was submitted to the U.S. Justice Department as an indispensible resource within the forensics community. Bloodstain pattern analysis is a forensic science employed to help interpret physical events at a crime scene. The guidebook contains a chapter devoted to this specialty. “Dried blood may be found at crime scenes, deposited either through pooling or via airborne transfer (spatter)…A stain on a garment, such as a shirt, might indicate contact between the person who wore the shirt and a bloody object, while tiny droplets of blood might suggest proximity to a violent event, such as a beating.”
A transfer-type stain is produced through contact. A transfer stain is from one source to another; a smear stain can be the result of a swipe through an existing blood source. Blood spatter is defined by blood traveling through space and is classified three ways: low-, medium- or high-energy. Dripping by gravity alone may produce low-energy spatter; stabs or blunt-force trauma with objects may produce medium-energy spatter; misting or tiny particles from a shotgun blast may produce high-energy spatter.
In the Richards case, Gregonis performed bloodstain pattern analysis on the clothing of both husband and wife. Gregonis’ handwritten notes indicate he analyzed Bill Richards’ shirt and pants on Aug. 19, 1993. A laboratory report completed by Gregonis on Oct. 14, 1993, included his interpretation of Richards’ attire. “The medium energy blood spatter patterns present on the right shoe (Item B-5a) and the pants (Item B-5b) indicates that these items were near an object impacting a bloody object. The pattern near the zipper of the pants indicates that the impact occurred to the front and right of the person wearing the pants.”
These early findings were instrumental in mounting a case against Richards. “At the beginning,” Bradford says, “one of the things that didn’t make sense, if I remember right, was that there was blood-spatter evidence on his clothing which was totally inconsistent with how he claimed that he found his wife and the way he claimed he moved or touched the body.”
Overall, Gregonis documented a total of three medium-energy blood patterns on Richards: one on a shoelace and two on the pants. In testimony, Gregonis opined that there were two separate directionalities of blood flight apparent on the pants, demonstrating two distinct medium-energy events. He found transfer-type staining on Bill Richards’ pants as well; it was concluded that the shirt showed solely transfer stains. Pam’s pants contained approximately 40 stains. Under direct exam, Risley asked Gregonis about Richards’ jeans vis-à-vis the dynamics of the crime scene. “I believe that they could have been worn by a person in close proximity to the medium impact stains.”
According to Richards, in the interim before law enforcement arrived on scene, he cradled his wife two or three times and drew a sleeping bag overtop her naked body up to her chin. At trial, Gregonis said that he expected more blood on the phone per Bradford’s retelling of Richards’ cradling account. To test the veracity of Richards’ cradling account, Gregonis performed a reconstruction experiment using a dummy. He simulated the victim’s head with a hollowed-out Styrofoam mannequin’s head, covered in latex and filled with a gelatin-type substance and one pint of human blood. Standing over the dummy and dressed in garments similar to Richards’, a cinder block was dropped on the head, and the experimenter proceeded to cradle the subject. Afterward, Gregonis expected to find more blood on Richards shirt to duplicate the experiment’s findings. The dripping pattern on the experimental pants’ inner thigh did not match Richards’. Initially, Gregonis anticipated that more blood would’ve been deposited on Richards’ pants if he was the perpetrator, but during the re-creation he learned that the cinder block acted as a shield.
More tests revealed that all the blood on Richards was Pam’s except two small stains, which could not be aged. Pam was identified as the possible donor of blood on Pam’s jeans, stepping stones, cinder block, sleeping bag and telephone. Bloodstains on other tested objects were consistent with Pam. Widespread DNA testing was not available in 1997.
Law enforcement’s on-scene tracking was pivotal in ruling out a third-party presence at the crime scene. Located in a remote desert, the area was sparsely populated. The immediate crime scene was combed for shoe impressions. Detective Parent fanned out at least 75 yards in every direction with four deputies to search the surrounding area for foot and tire tracks. The terrain varied from soft dirt to sand to rock. No broken vegetation or disruption of soil was found on the hillsides. Other than Nourse’s patrol unit, Pam’s Samurai and Bill’s pickup, no tire tracks belonging to another vehicle were sighted. Finally, Parent ascertained the respective tread patterns of footwear belonging to Nourse, Bill and Pam. No shoe mark was accounted for beyond the three.
“One item of evidence that I think was critical was there was zero evidence that anybody else was on the crime scene,” Risley reflects. “So, if there was somebody else that did it, they rented a helicopter, the helicopter hovered over the crime scene, and they rappelled onto the crime scene, and they did what they did to Pamela without leaving a shoe impression, and they got back into their helicopter and left. I know it sounds silly, but that’s what it is.”
Another county criminalist, Craig Ogino, studied fingernail scrapings taken from Pam. Trace evidence from both hands included soil, blood, a synthetic fiber, a dark blue possibly wool fiber, one dark hair, one light blonde hair, a small hair fragment and one white possibly cotton fiber. Ogino testified that all the evidence was categorized as historical, or likely picked up underneath anyone’s fingernails in the course of everyday life. No hair found on Pam was consistent with anyone other than the victim. However, Gregonis would videotape his extraction of a tuft of about 15 blue cotton fibers lodged in a cracked fingernail belonging to Pam. After Gregonis microscopically analyzed these fibers, he testified that they were “indistinguishable” from sample fibers excised from Richards’ work shirt, worn on the night of the murder.
Bite-mark evidence was never introduced in any trial until the last. However, an autopsy photo of the back of Pam’s right hand revealed a semicircular lesion between the thumb and index finger. Taken at an off-center angle, the low-quality image was marred by distortion. Forensic odontologists are dentists who collect and analyze dental evidence in criminal investigations. Typically, they undertake dental identifications or bite-mark comparisons. Dr. Norman Sperber, who’d previously testified in the high-profile murder trials of Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer, was retained by the prosecution. Sperber was recognized as a seminal leader in his field. In studying Pam’s autopsy photo, he concluded the injury was indeed a human bite mark. When he created an overlay—dots corresponding to biting edges—of Richards’ dentition to compare against the photo, he found general conformity between the two. Furthermore, Sperber testified that there was a dental abnormality in the bite-mark photo consistent with Richards’ under-erupted canine tooth. While Sperber noted that no scholarship existed on the subject, based on empirical information he guesstimated that Richards shared this abnormality with one or two percent of the population.
As Parent inventoried the contents of Pam’s purse into evidence, he uncovered two items the prosecutor would later seize upon to incriminate Richards. One was a business card. On June 18, 1993, Pam obtained a preliminary consultation from a divorce lawyer. Police records indicate she made only one visit after bouncing a check for the service. The purse also contained a handwritten note from Bill to Pam, outlining a division of marital assets. It was dated July 14, 1993.
“I, William Richards, relinquish all claim to joint properties between myself and my wife Pamela Richards, except for my tools, guns, Warrior and fifty percent of the equity in the land we own in Summit Valley. This includes profit sharing earned while we were together.” This is a verbatim transcript of what Parent read aloud from the witness stand.
Further amplifying the message that divorce was imminent, Risley questioned Patrick about the nature of his relationship with Pam. In turn, the prosecution witness told the jury that Pam planned to move in with him. He stated he loved her very much. After nearly a year of friendship, Patrick said the relationship became sexual some months before her death and persevered in that degree of intimacy until the end. Conversely, Richards’ remarks to police suggest he was irked by his wife’s ongoing contact with Patrick because it broke the longstanding habit of a brief fling with an outside partner.
Of the motives Risley presented, perhaps none was as impactful as the assertion that financial hardship was driving a wedge between husband and wife. By Richards’ own admission, they were fighting “like cats and dogs.” He claimed the arguments were not daily occurrences, but off and on. “Our biggest problems were money,” he told police, “and we argued over money.”
Creditors often phoned him at work. Behind his back, his wife borrowed thousands from his coworker and a neighbor. At least six months before the murder, Pam was laid off her full-time job as a loan processor at an agricultural machinery dealer. “That’s when we really started hurting,” Richards admitted to investigators. Soon Pam began waitressing at the Olive Garden, but part-time income failed to replace what had been lost. Normally, Pam handled the bills. But when her husband learned that she’d allowed his pickup’s car insurance to lapse due to delinquent payment—tacking on an additional $11,000 to an initial $14,000 loan which was almost paid off—he summarily took control of the finances. The day before Pam’s murder, an agent appeared on the Richardses’ property with a repossession order for the Ford Ranger. After explaining the purpose for his visit, Richards phoned the finance company and struck a temporary deal to maintain possession of the vehicle. According to the repossessor’s testimony, Richards was overheard saying he’d rather burn the truck to the ground than relinquish it to the lender.
In mid-June 1993, Richards closed the couple’s joint bank account and opened an individual one solely in his name. The teller was given explicit instructions to bar his wife’s access to it. In court, the teller testified that Bill felt his wife was irresponsible with money. Additionally, Richards allegedly stated that he’d grown weary of supporting his wife and the man with whom she was having an affair. From now on, he said, he’d only support himself.