“Trace time. There’s a punch clock when I left down there…Drive it. See how long it takes to get to my property. Look at the tires on my truck. They’re bald. You can see I wasn’t breaking any speed records. And you’ll get a time of death I’m sure, and you’ll see it’s nowhere near close.”
These were Richards’ words to Bradford when confronted with what authorities insisted was an ample window of opportunity. Throughout the interrogations, Richards stated that his drive home usually took about an hour traveling 65 mph most of the way. “The CHiPs are a little nasty on that highway so you can’t speed too much,” he said. The posted speed limit in 1993 was 55 mph. Crime scene photos show that in addition to a large chest full of ice, Richards drove home with at least five wooden pallets loaded into the pickup’s bed.
Two investigators assigned to Richards’ defense performed pacing exercises to gauge the accuracy of law enforcement’s drive re-creation. Maintaining 75 mph, Navarro clocked the one-way trip at 41 minutes. Bill Pope, a contracted investigator for the public defender’s office, drove the route at 65 mph in September 1993. During daylight hours along the reverse route, it took 52 minutes. Adding this estimate to a departure time of 11:06 p.m., Richards would’ve pulled onto his property at approximately 11:58 p.m. This is the exact minute he first dialed 911, after he’d already spoken to Patrick. Pope undertook a second exercise in 1994. Traveling with the speed of traffic—averaging about 65 mph to 70 mph along the work-to-home route—he again testified it took 52 minutes. The last trial featured three new estimates by a private investigator hired by the defense. Utilizing cruise control in 1997, 60 mph took 52 minutes, 65 mph took 48 minutes and 70 mph took 44 minutes.
At the preliminary hearing in September 1993, Navarro testified his velocity was 75 mph. During the first jury trial in 1994, he testified it was between 65 mph and 75 mph. The third trial, he stated he traveled at 75 mph. On June 16, 1997, Navarro testified for the final time. He affirmed that he’d driven with the flow of motorists.
“And, what would those speeds have varied, do you know?” the prosecutor asked.
“They varied anywhere from sixty, sixty-five, seventy miles an hour.”
When confronted with the discrepancies between testimonies on cross examination, Navarro chalked it up to the passage of time. “It’s been awhile,” he said. Each time on the witness stand, however, the elapsed time never deviated from 41 minutes.
In closing argument, Richards’ deputy public defender on all three mistrials, Michael Kennedy, pointed out that Navarro’s re-creation failed to account for the time his defendant spent stopped en route, loading his gun, exiting his vehicle and locking his hubs. Additionally, the shift mechanic who relieved Richards testified that he did not observe Richards leave work in any rush that evening. Kennedy declined to be interviewed for this story.
Cathy Hopkins, an ordained minister and register nurse, housed Richards in the days following the murder, before his arrest. She is the mother of Fred Quaas. Bill and Pam Richards were holiday guests in the home of mother and son before the crime. Both have staunchly advocated for Richards’ innocence since. When he didn’t return from his last police interview, Hopkins called the sheriff’s station. After one of the investigating officers informed her of the arrest, she says he mentioned that they were developing a theory that Richards had left his post at the manufacturing plant mid-shift.
“They made up this whole cock-and-bull story that he could’ve snuck home at 75 mph, killed Pam and drove 75 mph back in this like hour-and-a-half period that he couldn’t account for anyone seeing him,” Quaas says. “This is really important to me because they said, at the time when they arrested him, that she died at like 8:30. I’ve never forgotten that to this day…I know they’re full of crap and I know they know when she died.” Between the arrest and the preliminary hearing, however, Quaas alleges that authorities pieced together that Richards was in fact seen by coworkers for all but 15 minutes. “So, oops, that didn’t work…They concocted this whole thing. Now he comes home, somehow gets in a rage and he kills her in 10 minutes. There’s only like a 10-minute window.”
Dr. Irving Root served as the defense’s pathologist in each trial except the last. When a body dies, he testified, it becomes limp and the skin takes on the texture of a wet dish cloth. As a result, it would’ve taken time to unclothe a tight pair of jeans.
Given the bare-bones living conditions which existed on the property, the Richardses were not the beneficiaries of electricity supplied through a city utility. The motor home ran on two deep-cell batteries. The only light source in the storage shack was a battery-powered fluorescent light. Whenever more juice than 12 volts was required—to vacuum, watch television or otherwise—the 110-volt generator was utilized. Consequently, it needed to be filled with oil nightly because it was so old it burned oil rapidly. In the immediate vicinity of the generator shed, police would designate two areas of activity. Beside the generator shed were blood-soaked rocks, several bloodstains on the ground and other aforementioned items. Directly facing the generator, a large splotch where oil had seeped into the dirt was present, as well as Pam’s discarded jeans.
Shortly after he discovered his wife’s dead body, Richards told detectives that he walked to the motor home when the phone rang and flipped the light switch. Despite a four-to-six-hour battery life, the batteries were dead. Richards answered the phone and Patrick asked for Pam. Without exhibiting signs that he was winded or gasping, Richards replied that she was dead. He stated that she’d fallen off the porch, hit her head on a rock and her eye was hanging out of its socket. After Patrick expressed disbelief, Richards asked him what he should do. Patrick instructed Richards to call 911. Richards hung up and dialed 911 at 11:58 p.m. He also told the 911 operator that Pam had fallen and accidentally struck her head. When the first 911 call terminated, he briefly returned to his wife, draped a sleeping bag over her naked body and began staring at a nearby cinderblock, wondering how it had arrived at its current location. Part of a makeshift step, Richards told detectives the block should’ve been stacked at the foot of the motor home’s entrance.
Slowly it began to dawn on him that a falling scenario was implausible given the catastrophic head injury and out-of-place details. At 12:06 a.m., he placed the second 911 call. Afterward, he retrieved a four-cell Maglite flashlight with a focusable beam. Richards proceeded toward the generator to illuminate the darkness. Once there, he said he noticed obvious signs—spilled oil, bloodstains, discarded pants—that things were amiss. Opting not to power on the generator, he instead turned back, returned to his wife and cradled her again. Sitting down with her for several minutes, he rose to call 911 a third time at 12:33 a.m. “Where the fuck are you?” he pleaded to the operator. A few minutes later, Richards spotted Nourse’s headlights on the roadway below.
“I figure things out for a living,” Richards would later testify. “I look at details and I’m very good at it.” In Nourse’s transcript, as well as throughout police interviews, he repeatedly extrapolated facts in attempts to reconstruct the manner in which his wife had been slain. Authorities listened attentively. Before the witness stand, Kennedy inquired why Richards had volunteered theories to police. The answer was seemingly guileless. “I talk a lot, try to be helpful.” He vehemently denies Nourse’s testimony that he was coolly laying out scenarios at the crime scene. Rather, he contends he was striving to maintain composure and apply logic to better assist detectives.
The day after the murder, Richards posited to investigators that Pam had been ambushed as she crouched near the generator. “My guess, and I’m no detective, but my guess is, from the oil being laid open was she was in the process of filling oil or something when she, whatever, engaged combat, because the oil [bottle] was knocked over and the top was off. Now I’m guessing, I didn’t look that closely.”
Less than two days after the murder, Quaas traveled to the crime scene to collect firearms because authorities had warned Richards not to leave guns unattended on the property. Quaas noticed a telltale clue that Richards would relate to police in a subsequent interview. The generator’s crankcase was filled with oil. “And he [Quaas] just started up the generator…which was my question. ‘Had it been running and run out of fuel or not?’ Apparently not, because he started it up and it ran, so she never started it. But the crankcase was closed. He said the cap for the oil thing was sitting on top of the motor, which is where she put it when she was refilling it. So apparently, she had filled the oil, closed the crankcase and was in the process of refilling the squeeze bottle when she was attacked.”
The afternoon of Aug. 10, 1993, Pam’s general manager at the Olive Garden phoned her and left a message on her machine, asking if she was available to cover a night shift. At 5:30 p.m., Pam returned his call but there was no longer a need.
Generator power was necessary to vacuum the motor home. The night of the murder, Pam phoned her brother between 7:15 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. according to his testimony. She wished him a happy birthday in a normal tone of voice. In his opening remarks, Smith told the jury that during this call Pam told her brother she was preparing to vacuum. When police arrived, the vacuum cleaner was plugged in. Normally it would’ve been kept in the storage shed. A pile of shoes was also pushed aside, clearing a carpeted path.
Inside the short bed of Pam’s Suzuki Samurai sat a green plastic trash bag full of dirty laundry. Her closed purse and a pair of sunglasses were placed on the passenger seat.
“Was it normal for her to keep her purse in the Suzuki?” Bradford asked during an interrogation.
“Only if she was going somewhere,” said Richards. “The fact that there is dirty laundry in the back of the Suzuki means she was about to go into town and do laundry after she vacuumed.” None of the investigators touched the generator or the Samurai’s hood to help determine whether either had been in recent operation due to warmth.
Moments before 10 p.m. on August 10, Quaas phoned the Richardses to cancel a preplanned daytrip with Bill because he unexpectedly had to work. He was positive of the time, he testified, because the call was made as credits for “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” rolled on his TV. After it rang a few times, he heard two successive clicks before the dial tone sounded. Immediately, he placed a second call but the line rang unanswered at least 15 times before he gave up. Quaas says he phoned them regularly, and either Bill or Pam were in the habit of picking up their phone if they were home. “Why didn’t it get picked up?” he wondered in court. “I mean somebody was home.”
According to Quaas, Pam’s night vision was poor. Bill, Pam and he frequently camped overnight in the desert on shooting excursions. When Pam needed to urinate, Quaas testified that Bill had to lead her by the hand on dark walks away from the campsite.
Smith lampooned the prosecution’s timeline in his opening statement. “It gets dark around 8:00 or 8:30 in August, so I guess what they are saying to you is Pamela Richards sat up there in the dark for four hours waiting for her husband to come home and murder her.”
In a state of agitation, dogs can be heard barking loudly on Nourse’s audiotape. The Richardses owned four unleashed watchdogs, which had free range throughout the acreage. The prosecution suggested that guard dogs failed to alert or defend their master against her assailant because they were already well acquainted with Bill Richards. But Richards shared doubts with detectives regarding their protective instincts. He recounted a day when a stranger trespassed onto the property and knocked at the motor home door. A lineman from the utility company introduced himself.
“And here’s both of my big dogs. One leaning up against each side of his leg like they were his fucking dogs. I’m thinking, ‘What kind of dogs are you?’…I was very disappointed in the fact that the dogs didn’t protect her…The dogs barked constantly.” On the other hand, when Nourse was asked in testimony how the dogs reacted to his presence, he offered a different perspective. “Growled, snarled, snapped their teeth. Basically, they didn’t want me anywhere around that place.”
Over the course of the night in question and into daylight hours, dogs roamed in and out of the unsecure crime scene. Nourse’s incident report indicates he made several unsuccessful attempts to shoo the animals away. Ultimately, he decided it was more detrimental to the crime scene’s integrity to violate it by pursuit of the pets.
“I saw the dogs sniffing around the body on several different occasions and each time they were yelled at to chase them off…But, upon re-examination of the body with Homicide when they arrived on scene there were paw marks around the head area where the dogs had been digging and had just about entirely covered the face and head area with dirt.”
Dogs had partially buried the victim’s head.
Parent contemplated shooting the dogs at the scene, but decided against that expedient. “I don’t think there was any way to secure the area to prevent animal activity,” Bradford says. “They lived out in the middle of nowhere.” Risley argues that other than corralling the dogs to the best of authorities’ abilities, there was little recourse. “What more can you do? I would challenge someone to say what would they have done.”
Two crime scene photos taken in the light of day, however, show a large tan dog plainly visible. It is napping mere feet from the victim’s body. “Not locking down the crime scene is unconscionable in this case,” says Alex Simpson, one of Richards’ Innocence Project attorneys.
Crime scene manipulation was a major factor in defining the first-degree murder charge. Kennedy declared that the prosecution’s theories of manipulation were bogus excuses for the deliberation and premeditation necessitated by the charge. They also doubled as handy explanations for inexplicable elements of the crime scene, he told the jury.
Gregonis testified that the crime scene’s circumstances aroused suspicion of sexual assault. In fact, while on scene he collected swabs and other samples for a rape kit. Detectives refused to divulge whether Pam had been raped in their interrogations of Richards. “Whether you guys will tell me it’s sexual or not, somebody tore her pants off,” said Richards. “You guys don’t have to tell me that’s what happened or not, but in my mind that’s what I see.” Law enforcement and Richards used identical criteria as a speculative rationale. Furthermore, Kennedy was reluctant to eliminate rape as a motive simply because the rape kit came back with a negative result. “How do you know that there wasn’t some sexual assault that was interrupted? What you do perhaps know is that there wasn’t anything detectably consummated. There is a big, big difference between those two.”
Nourse told the jury that Richards said Pam’s jeans didn’t come off easy. “Trust me on this” was Nourse’s quote. Richards’ complete statement excerpted from a police transcript is as follows.
“She had this, she had to squeeze into those jeans this morning, cause [sic] she’s put weight on. Those jeans couldn’t come off easy trust me. She didn’t loose [sic] them back there. Jesus Christ, it’s bad enough thinking she fell, but there’s blood…”
Due to the lack of connective blood trails between areas of activity and the overall complexity of the scene, Parent deduced that Richards had carried his wife into their motor home. Gregonis theorized that the struggle began near the generator or close by the Suzuki—two areas at least 56 feet apart based on Parent’s crime scene description report—during the first trial. In summation, Kennedy openly wondered how a 6-foot-2-inch man negotiated a narrow doorway approximately 22 inches wide and 69 inches high while transporting a 5-foot-10-inch woman. Parent also testified that the vacuum cleaner’s handle was not fingerprinted despite its probable movement when the body was supposedly carried inside the motor home. Investigators did not fingerprint any portion of the camper’s interior.
Because indentations from sand and pebbles appeared only on the victim’s back, Sheridan didn’t believe Pam’s front came into contact with the desert floor. Risley contrasted this opinion with Richards’ account of discovering his wife facedown. Inches from where the body came to rest, there was a sizeable patch of dead grass, bloody cinder block and heavy-gauge-steel fencing material lying flat on the ground. Throughout Richards’ interrogations he confessed uncertainty about how he’d precisely touched and cradled the body. Simpson isn’t convinced that Richards had lucidity about the body’s position upon arrival, either. “In terms of the district attorney making a lot of hay out of the position of the body, I just think that’s a closed box. I don’t know that any of us can get back to how she was positioned.”
In testimony, Nourse represented to the jury that Richards had told him he’d observed a bloody stepping stone down a dark hillside angled at about 45 degrees, without the aid of a flashlight. “It was down the side of the mountain so I couldn’t see it,” Nourse said. “I don’t know how he saw it.” Unfortunately, Nourse’s audio recording does not include this snippet of Richards’ dialogue. On a small downgrade, this placarded stepping stone was located 7 feet 3 inches northeast of the victim according to Parent’s police report. On audiotape, Richards told Bradford and Parent he noticed the stepping stone with the benefit of Pam’s flashlight upon exiting the motor home. Later, in court Richards described it as a three-cell, large beam flashlight.
Simpson believes that law enforcement zeroed in on Richards at the earliest stage. “The fact that they’re already making comments or reports that Bill was robotic after they found him shows that they’re already, hours after the event, after they first make contact, that they think he’s done it.”
“In hindsight,” Richards writes, “I wouldn’t have said a word to the police. I tried to be helpful and they twisted everything.”
With other means available, including an arsenal of guns on hand, Smith argued it was far more likely that Richards would’ve murdered his wife differently. Risley disagrees. “Who knows? Again, Bill Richards, calculated guy. ‘That’s too easy. If someone shoots her, all they have to do is go into my shed and find all the guns.'” Quaas’ opinion is more definitive.
“He’s a very smart man,” he says of Richards. “If he did do it, we wouldn’t be here. In the theoretical, if he had done it, he would’ve done a better job.”
The first 911 call was made at 11:58 p.m., but the call was unanswered until 12:02 a.m. In the meantime, audio was recorded. Richards was heard to say in an anxious tone of voice, “Oh, come on, someone…” before the operator responded on the other end. Kennedy argued there was no way Richards had any awareness of this technicality. When Patrick called, Richards also testified that he had no incentive to answer the phone if his intent was to conceal his presence at home. To attract the patrolman’s attention on the roadway, Richards flashed his headlights from his small plateau’s elevated perch. Once on scene, Nourse stated that it took considerable coaxing to keep Richards away from his wife. He pleaded to stay by her side and hold her. In court, Smith remarked that covering his wife’s body with a sleeping bag to shield her nakedness from police was an act inconsistent with murder. In the psych evaluation as part of his 2009 parole review, the interviewer documented that Richards did not exhibit conning or manipulative traits.
Gregory Randolph was employed as San Bernardino County’s deputy coroner on Aug. 11, 1993. Forty minutes after midnight, Randolph was contacted by the dispatch center and advised of Pam Richards’ death. At the homicide team’s directive, however, the deputy coroner testified he didn’t respond to the scene until about 10 a.m. Daylight revealed a decedent in advanced stages of rigor mortis; the window to document fresh details had shut forever. Generally, Randolph’s preference was to immediately arrive at crime scenes to make time-of-death observations. However, his superior and the pathologist who performed Pam’s autopsy, Frank Sheridan, regarded time of death as a “fruitless search.” At the Richards scene, Randolph simply took possession of the body after the homicide team processed the scene. A coroner’s duty is to perform an independent investigation, apart from law enforcement.
Forensic pathologist Dr. Griffith Thomas was retained by the defense on the final trial alone. Griffith characterized the nine-hour gap between Randolph’s notification and dispatch to the crime scene as “outrageously wrong.” He testified that time-of-death determinations are approximated by rigor mortis, lividity and core body temperature. Griffith stated that liver temp was the best method to assess the body’s rate of postmortem cooling. It required an incision which did not cause much bodily disturbance. At the time, taking core body temps at crime scenes was standard practice in Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties. Richards’ blood-spatter expert, Dean Gialamas, also testified that L.A. County’s coroner’s investigation report form included a box for liver temp.
Navarro confessed during the preliminary hearing that despite his seven years of participation in homicide investigations, he had never heard of taking body temps for time-of-death estimation.
Absent expert testimony, Nourse’s time-of-death observations acquired exponential weight. He testified he had a working knowledge of meteorology because he was a pilot. While he conceded that he wasn’t aware how moonlight was shining 30 minutes before his arrival, he did witness slow-moving clouds. Nourse told jurors he saw a “completely overcast” sky with “no moonlight at all.” On the other hand, his incident report years earlier tended to stray from absolutes.
“When I arrived on scene there was very little moonlight if any,” Nourse wrote, “as the sky was very cloudy and overcast.”
According to NASA’s historical table of lunar phases, Aug. 11, 1993, was the first day of the moon’s first-quarter phase. During this phase, the moon’s right half is illuminated. On August 10, the area’s newspaper of record, Victorville’s The Daily Press, included a weather outlook for the High Desert, which encompasses Hesperia. “Mainly clear tonight” was the forecast. A handful of crime scene photos snapped shortly before sun-up show wispy clouds in patches.
The newspaper’s high-low temperature estimates for August 10 were 100/67. The next day’s estimates were 97/67. Richards testified that the air temperature was about 80 degrees. He also said Pam’s body felt cool to the touch, not ice cold. “It was a very cool evening, very cold evening,” Nourse testified. “If she had been dead for a long time like he stated, she definitely would have been cold.”
In the Air Force or as a peace officer, he had responded to “easily over 20” incidents like aircraft crashes, fires and drownings, where a person turned out to be dead. Based on observations about freshness of blood, rigor mortis, lividity and body temp, Nourse placed Pam in the same category as someone who had died in his arms. “She felt nearly normal to the touch. She felt like a normal body temperature in the sense that if she had moaned or sat up, leaving alone her injuries for the moment but just the skin touch, I would not have been surprised.”
On cross exam, Kennedy vigorously challenged Nourse’s expertise to form judgments on time of death. Nourse admitted he had no formal knowledge about the cooling rate of a dead body. Root testified that there is substantial variability in how long blood will appear red and liquid in the open air depending on such factors such as temperature, amount of blood, absorbency of surface, etc. Excepting on-the-job experience, Nourse testified he had no knowledge relative to time frames for blood degeneration. “I have no formal training on how long it takes blood to dry,” he said. Instead, he stated he had formal training on treating injuries. “I have practical experience with dealing with injuries of all types that have occurred from recent to much time past, and seeing blood how it’s dried, coagulated, turned colors, et cetera.” When asked about maximum ranges of time before lividity and rigor mortis are observable per scientific literature, Nourse replied that these were variable questions. Following the mistrials, Smith again questioned Nourse’s credentials during the last trial in a hearing outside the jury’s presence.
“Do you have any training having to do with people who are dead, as far as a determination when they died,” Smith asked.
“Yes, sir, I do.”
Despite the fact that he’d examined the victim by peeling a corner of the sleeping bag off a supine body, Nourse noted in testimony and his incident report that there were no signs of lividity present. Root noted in his summary report that unless the observer was properly trained in examining for rigor mortis, a failure to find evidence of its presence in the early stages after death was not helpful.
“Were you solely an E.M.T. in the military?” Risley asked Nourse during the first trial.
“Yes,” Nourse replied.
A DD-214 is a certificate of military service issued upon discharge. Nourse’s DD-214 form cites two specialties: strategic aircraft maintenance technician (2 years, 11 months) and fire protection specialist (3 years, 2 months). EMT designation does not appear on this report. Ostensibly, his medical education consisted of a four-week Fire Rescueman Course and a weeklong Emergency Care of the Sick and Injured course. Listed among miscellaneous other military courses is an eight-week Fire Protection Specialist Course.
“Every murder case that you work,” says Bradford, “you have no idea. They’re all whodunits until you follow what clues or what information you’re led to. So we follow whatever is there.”
Both inconsistencies and consistencies catalyzed Nourse’s suspicions. Richards’ claims of moonlight on a pitch-black evening and seemingly firsthand accounts of an attack constituted two such examples of Nourse’s ambivalence. Yet throughout police interviews Richards lamented his fuzzy memory. No less than four times, Richards expressed confusion about a strict sequence of the previous night’s events during his interrogation on Aug. 11, 1993. He describes his state of shock to police on August 30. “At the time, it was a very funny feeling because I was numb. It’s like I hurt, but I couldn’t feel the pain. I don’t know how to describe it.”
Awake well in excess of 24 hours, and a few hours removed from the discovery of his wife’s mutilated body, Richards told detectives he’d first seen his wife’s legs “shining in the moonlight, more or less.” Later in the interview, he recounts the moment. “I had the fluorescent light on in the building, which had a little bit of light coming out, ’cause I could see her legs kinda shined. I saw the backs of her legs.” The aid of fluorescent light is referenced by Richards at least twice more in police tapes.
“Was there any moonlight at all that night?” Bradford asked Richards on August 30.
“Shit, I don’t remember. I think there was. Yeah, I think there was a fair amount. She was laying down in the shadow. That’s why I didn’t see her. It seems to me I didn’t have too much trouble seeing her once I got down there.”
Unless the Richardses were home, all firearms were padlocked in the storage shed because the motor home’s door didn’t properly lock. The motor home had been robbed several times in the past. A nightly ritual, Richards was accustomed to transferring a .357-caliber handgun from the shed to the motor home for protection. The night before Pam’s killing, Richards neglected to move the gun before he went to sleep. In police interviews he said he was overtired and mad at his wife, so he went straight to bed. Later, as he scanned bloody pillows inside the motor home, his heart sank. His first thought was that she had dashed in to retrieve the weapon, but it wasn’t there. Bradford would share Richards’ fear at trial. Why Richards would voluntarily self-incriminate, unless he was naively aiding in the murder investigation, was never explained.
“We just began this investigation,” Bradford told Richards on August 11. “A homicide investigation is a long, detailed investigation. And just from the onset right here, from the information thus far, at least at this point in the case you may be responsible for her death.”
“If you want to focus on me, I don’t care,” replied Richards. “I didn’t do it. Don’t stop looking, is what I’m saying. Throw me in jail, just don’t stop looking.”
Police tapes reveal that Richards referred to his wife’s body as “stone cold” once. In the course of these recordings, he referred to the motor home’s drained battery three times—twice as “stone dead” and once as “stone cold.”
“The battery was dead when I got home,” Richards told detectives on August 17. “It was stone cold.”
In court, Richards testified that “stone” anything was a holdover term from his adolescence, slang from the hippie era. The prosecution was told that the expressions “stone cold” or “dead as a doornail” were comparable and likewise meaningless.
According to a defense investigator’s report, a homicide detective visited a neighbor of the Richardses two or three days after the murder. The neighbor allegedly told the investigator that because his opinion of Bill Richards was favorable, the policeman appeared disinclined to waste his time any further. On August 17, Navarro told Pam’s social worker that, in spite of several interviews, motive was still a mystery to police. “We’re at a point now where we really feel there’s more than meets the eye,” he told her. A detective, likely Parent, told an Olive Garden cook on August 25 that everyone who’d taken a polygraph had passed, and the police investigation was now at a standstill. Parent told Richards on August 30 that rumors of marital discord were motivating suspicions.
Case agent Parent generated a request form on Oct. 24, 1994, and delivered it to his department’s Scientific Investigation Division. In it, he ordered a comparison of Patrick’s blood to the crime scene’s known samples. Blood from Patrick was drawn the same day. The date also coincided with the commencement of Richards’ second trial. Fifty-six days after the first trial ended in a hung jury and 14 months after the original crime, this blood work was requested ASAP.
In the three years that the Richardses resided there, Pam told her husband that on four or five occasions she had an eerie sense that she was being watched as she filled the generator’s oil at home alone. This happened nowhere else on the property. Richards told law enforcement he searched high and low in the surrounding hills with his dogs, but failed to find so much as a boot print. He said these strange occurrences helped shape his nascent speculations in the wake of Pam’s attack.
The day following the murder, Bradford asked Richards to remove his bloodstained work shirt so his upper body could be inspected. Other than a tiny scab on Richards’ elbow, there were no marks or visible wounds anywhere on his chest, arms, back or torso. Navarro later repeated this exercise on Pedro Galvan, a caretaker of at least two ranches in the vicinity, with the same negative outcome. Galvan testified he was told the murderer probably had scratches on his body.
Once police questioning ended on August 11, Hopkins came to pick up Richards at the sheriff’s station. “At one point,” she recalls, “they told Bill they wanted his clothing, so they took him away. The other policeman who stayed in the room with me immediately started trying to convince me that Bill was guilty. ‘You must be very careful. Things may not be what they seem.’ It was scare-tactic language…So I took Bill home with me to my house. Basically I stripped him down to his shorts and put him to bed. There was not a mark on him. After I had been to the property and saw the extent of the struggle, it further locked into my mind that there is no way that he did this. Whoever killed her could not have come out of that unmarked.”
Galvan lived about an eighth of a mile from the roadway that fronted the Richards residence. He told Navarro that he watched a compact red sports car, similar to a Mazda RX-7, drive by at 7 p.m. on Aug. 10, 1993. That night, he claimed he heard dogs barking from the Richards home at about 10 p.m., but didn’t think twice about it because it was extremely common. Galvan testified outside the jury’s presence that he’d seen the same vehicle three or four times in the month prior to the murder, but not once since. On one occasion, he told police he flagged down the suspicious car and asked the single occupant—a white male with long hair between 25 and 32 years of age—whether he was lost. The driver allegedly replied he was just looking around before he drove away. At the time Galvan jotted down the license plate number, but misplaced the slip of paper soon thereafter. Richards claims that Galvan was blocked from testifying about the sports car. Galvan’s limited testimony about scratch marks was included in the first mistrial. He was not summoned to the witness stand in the last trial.
Another neighbor interviewed by police indicated she had seen an unidentified red auto, “maybe an old Vega-type car,” parked in the area during the weeks leading up to the murder. A male prowler was observed staring at passing motorists. She promptly phoned the sheriff’s department to file a police report. Again, she wrote down a license plate number. “There’s a report,” she informed the detective.
Risley emphasized that there was no proof of a third party on the property in each trial. Other than Nourse’s patrol car, Pam’s Samurai and Bill’s Ranger, Parent did not identify any other tire tread marks up the long driveway leading to the plateau. After tracking the immediate crime scene, Parent and his team radiated out into the surrounding hillsides along a 100-yard perimeter. Outside the immediate crime scene, Parent saw no disturbances in soil or vegetation. Here, he did not find shoe prints to prove someone came down from the hillsides. In the entire search area, he discovered no shoe impressions belonging to unknown persons.
“Is it your testimony that,” Risley asked Parent at the preliminary hearing, “based upon everything we have talked about thus far, you have accounted for all the vehicles that came on that property?”
“And you have accounted for all the shoe prints that came on the property?” Risley proceeded.
When Kennedy cross examined Parent, however, a revelatory set of circumstances emerged. Two of Nourse’s superior officers reported to the scene before homicide detectives arrived. One was Sergeant McCarville, who Nourse testified was the on-duty watch commander. As McCarville ascended the upgrade toward the plateau, his patrol unit spun its tires before slipping into a ditch. Nourse phoned his wife, who then drove onto the premises in a civilian Jeep. Nourse subsequently towed the immobilized patrol unit out of the ditch with his private four-wheel drive. While it was within Parent’s survey area, he did not identify any corresponding tire tracks for either vehicle in his search. In fact, he was oblivious to the event entirely.
“So you don’t know anything about a patrol car falling in a ditch and a Jeep pulling it out?” Kennedy pressed.
“Well, if that happened, you would have noticed those tire tracks, wouldn’t you?”
“If that would have happened, I would think so.”
The day before Pam’s murder, a repossession agent climbed the driveway to the plateau’s edge in his red dually truck. Again, these tire tracks were not accounted for by Parent. Nourse acknowledged he “had to punch it and go all out” to ascend the driveway, kicking up rocks and dirt along the way. Furthermore, Quaas says he rented a little tractor two weeks before the murder. As a favor to Pam, he graded her driveway with it. He says it dug tracks everywhere into the soil. No tractor marks were referenced in the testimony. Days after the crime, when Quaas returned to the residence, he claims his old footsteps were still detectable. “I could find my own shoeprints up there after they had mauled the scene,” he says. Richards testified that he had seen dirt bikers riding in nearby hilly terrain three to five days before the crime, but Parent did not testify to corresponding tracks despite months without rainfall.
From the driveway down to the roadside archway just inside the police staging area, Parent said he looked for shoe impressions. Still, he recognized that foot tracks may have been obliterated where tires had rolled over them.
“There’s an old line that we sometimes use,” says Jan Stiglitz, another of Richards’ Innocence Project attorneys. “The absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence.”
Parent told Kennedy at the preliminary hearing that he did not know Pam’s shoe size nor the size of her feet. Instead, he visually reckoned each person’s tread patterns. The soles of Richards’ shoes were nearly worn smooth. Because Pam’s feet were shoeless, her husband identified her normal footwear as white canvas shoes. Both were found close to the generator, each lost in one of two respective areas of activity. Three individual shoeprints on the entire plateau were matched to Pam. One was at the foot of her Samurai’s driver’s side door; another was sunk into the oily stain facing the generator; the last was at the generator’s side near signs of a blood-shedding event. A single shoe impression—between two parked cars and outside the crime scene’s obvious areas of activity—was associated with Bill Richards. Kennedy pointed out that there were no marks of varying depth between activity areas to support the carrying scenario formulated by the prosecution. Moreover, the deputy public defender argued it was equally probable that the murderer wore shoes similar to Richards’, thereby producing no discernable tracks. In fact, Parent stated that the plateau itself was not conducive to footprints.
“The soil out there wouldn’t lend itself to shoehorn shoe impressions,” Gregonis also testified. He saw shoe impressions by the camper that were “somewhat indistinct. But they were reasonably like Pamela Richards’ shoes. There were a number of tracks…but once again, the soil didn’t give any detail.”
The desert terrain that encircled the crime scene would’ve enabled an intruder to reach the plateau by various angles, Parent testified. In addition, the case agent said there were many footpaths which led into the surrounding hills where he found mostly animal tracks. In a later legal brief, Kennedy pondered whether the differential between mostly and entirely was the actual murderer. Numerous dog tracks were spotted throughout, with the potential to at least partially obscure existing shoe impressions.
Richards told the jury that due west of the crime scene there was a trail that led to a 200-yard metal rifle target. As he did on August 9, he walked that trail almost daily in hiking boots. North of the shack, the shelf dipped into a small basin area where Richards kept lumber, tools, a concrete mixer and a water tank. Here, about a week before the murder, Richards pulled a motor out of a Dodge Dakota. A plumbing line from the tank pumped water to the motor home. Both husband and wife paced back and forth whenever the pump was turned on. Richards testified they had both walked down the morning of August 10. Parent did not report footprints in either of these high-traffic places.
Smith discounts law enforcement’s on-scene tracking altogether. After he converted 3-by-5-inch photos onto disks, he says he was able to properly adjust resolution. “There were footprints all over the place…There must have been a thousand of them.”
Defense investigator Pope served 14 years as a San Bernardino County deputy sheriff—where he’d been trained in desert tracking—before the first trial opened. Comparatively, Parent possessed two years of tracking experience with a mountain search and rescue unit. Kennedy and Pope traveled to the scene to scout the environment. Kennedy climbed a hillside and Pope followed. The investigator testified that he did and did not see Kennedy’s tracks where he expected. From his experience, he said it was possible for someone to come down through the clearings and chaparral without leaving footprints. It was as also possible to overlook tracks in that specific terrain, he affirmed.
At times, the art of deflection can be a defense attorney’s best fallback. In terms of alternate suspects, however, Richards’ lawyers found the loom mostly unsupplied with thread. Nonetheless, viable options did exist.
Vagrants were known to hop on and off the area’s railway lines. Freight trains made routine stops less than a mile from the Richards property. Burglaries were common, with some residents victimized multiple times. Bradford told Richards that he was aware of neighbors’ complaints about break-ins. San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department reported 59 murders and manslaughters in 1993, the decade’s highest incidence based on FBI historical crime data. In spite of the sparse population, there were three residences within a mile of the Richardses—the closest ranch a quarter-mile away. One of Richards’ neighbors was a drug-addled career criminal, according to Richards. A rumored Peeping Tom who watched Pam through a telescope, he also allegedly stole items from Richards’ property. “I had a couple of face-offs with him,” says Richards. None of these fringe candidates, however, held as much promise as George Patrick.
It appears that Patrick was never a bona fide object of suspicion after he passed a polygraph examination. In fact, Kennedy even declared it his belief that Patrick was innocent. But the story didn’t end there.
“I don’t want to focus on [George] that much, except to point out that the evidence against [George] is at least as strong as it is against Mr. Richards,” Kennedy said.
“She meant everything to me,” Patrick told a polygraph examiner of Pam. He testified he could pinpoint the exact day sexual relations with Pam began. Patrick suffered extensive burns over 70 percent of his body as a result of a helicopter crash in March 1992. Pam stayed by his bedside during the ordeal and recurrent surgeries as a constant companion, and was instrumental in his emotional well-being and recovery, according to his testimony. The morning of Aug. 12, 1993, Pam’s ex-sister-in-law received a phone call from Patrick, according to a police report. She disclosed details of the phone call with authorities. Patrick notified her Pam was deceased and asked for contact numbers for members of Pam’s family. Further, he told her Pam was planning on leaving her husband for Patrick. She said it was odd because she met Patrick in passing once six weeks prior, maintained sporadic phone contact with Pam and had been divorced from Richards’ brother since 1983. Additionally, Richards told police he was extremely irritated that he had received word through his brother that Patrick notified most of Richards’ immediate family and some of his in-laws of Pam’s murder. Patrick also allegedly informed Pam’s parents that Richards had taken out a life insurance policy on his wife.
An Olive Garden bartender told detectives that Pam had complained of Patrick’s possessiveness. An Olive Garden cook told police Pam said she intended to “drop a guy” she was dating who was possessive. The night before her killing, Patrick told detectives that he met Pam in her workplace’s parking lot. Patrick said he urged her to leave her husband before he hurt her. She declined. “It wasn’t angry, it was just frustrated talk,” Patrick said. Another of Pam’s coworkers told police Patrick sent Pam dozens of roses at work. Investigators uncovered 17 greeting cards and one love letter Patrick sent Pam in the year-and-a-half span of their relationship. During the last of two visits to her social worker, Pam reportedly said that her disfigured boyfriend was pressuring her to move in with him, but she ultimately decided she didn’t want to do that. Patrick testified on cross exam that he would not be surprised to learn that Pam had told someone he was putting constant pressure on her and making her life difficult. Kennedy characterized Patrick as an obsessed man indebted to his Florence Nightingale.
A polygraph examiner asked Patrick whether he felt Richards caused Pam’s death.
“Yeah,” Patrick replied
“You feel that strongly about it?”
“If he did not actually hire somebody or do it himself,” Patrick began, “he caused her to be where she was, by herself, when it happened. But more than anything else, he caused her to live a life of complete subordinance.”
Because he’d glanced at a watch, Patrick testified at the last mistrial that Richards answered his phone call a few minutes after midnight on the night of the murder. To the best of his recollection, however, the same call was answered “somewhere between 11:55 and midnight” in Patrick’s testimony from the convicting trial. On that night, Patrick told police he’d unsuccessfully attempted to reach Pam by phone every five minutes from 9:30 p.m. onward. (These were classified as unbillable local calls and therefore not listed on the phone bill.) In contrast, a reading of his father’s bill during prior testimony showed that Patrick had engaged in a 33-minute phone call with a friend at 10:15 p.m. When Patrick described his brief phone call with Pam’s husband to police, he stated that Richards told him Pam had tripped, fallen and hit her head. This speculative remark was omitted when Patrick later recounted the conversation under oath.
By all accounts Patrick had a strong alibi. He spent the majority of the afternoon into the late evening apartment shopping with his daughter. Although he had surgical pins in both hands, he managed to drive between Oxnard, Fontana, Camarillo and Thousand Oaks. Incidentally, police did not corroborate this timeline through the daughter until July 18, 1994, or twelve days into the first trial. Reportedly Patrick arrived home at about 9:30 p.m., where he was observed at various points by both parents. The Richards residence was about a 45-minute drive from Patrick.
The most compelling reason Patrick was eliminated may have been due to his debilitations. “[George] is physically incapable of violence,” Richards told police the day after Pam’s murder. Through an intermediary, Richards even invited him to this wife’s funeral, according to Patrick’s former roommate. “That guy was fairly crippled,” Bradford remembers, “and was not very ambulatory. He didn’t have a lot of strength.”
In the course of Patrick’s phone calls to the Richards residence on August 10, he testified he received a busy signal two or three times. Due to a history of bad local service, Patrick dialed the phone company to ascertain whether there was a malfunction in the line. He was advised by the operator that the busy signal was legitimate. The phone was not off the hook nor the line out of order. A security expert at GTE, the phone company, later testified that a 50-cent charge appeared on Patrick’s bill for a “verified busy signal” at 11:42 p.m. An operator authenticated a busy signal by breaking into the line and listening for talking. This occurred five minutes before the prosecution’s earliest estimate of Richards’ arrival. The GTE representative was not called to testify in the final trial.
Judge Powers presided over the third and fourth trials. Twice Kennedy filed motions to disqualify Powers, respectively due to a forthcoming election and a claim of improper handling of an ex-parte application. Kennedy withdrew the first petition after a calendar judge reassigned the case while the recusal matter awaited resolution. The request became moot when Richards’ case concluded before any ruling could be rendered. The second disqualification motion failed.
In his second brief, Kennedy wrote the defense’s grounds for Powers’ first recusal materialized when “the heat of her re-election campaign burned with too much constabularial and prosecutorial fuel for the requisite neutrality.” Actual prejudice was cited as the basis for the second motion. On Nov. 28, 1994, Kennedy submitted a confidential application to obtain Patrick’s medical records. In the order, Kennedy alerted the court that “the material is not discoverable by the People from the defendant by express reservation.” After he learned that Powers had elicited Risley’s opinion before ruling on the request, Kennedy considered his defense strategy fatally compromised and immediately moved to dismiss the judge on November 29. Preserved in the court record, Kennedy’s reaction was unequivocal.
“Thunderous news of this monstrous breach of confidentiality, occasioned by improper ex parte communications between the court and the prosecution, resounded throughout the halls of the courthouse, with all who learned of it shaking their heads and wagging their fingers, and several remonstrating against this attorney for having let this case go before Judge Powers in the first place.”
In her filed response, Powers rejected the accusation of bias. “There was no language in the Ex Parte Application that would indicate to the reader that Mr. Kennedy wished to keep the request confidential, and I did not infer such a desire.” Ultimately, Kennedy would fail to unseat Powers from the bench.
Subjectivity can often color what is perceived through a beholder’s lens. On the other end of the spectrum, objectivity must be the inflexible aim of every ethical scientist. Many disciplines of forensic science are interpretative by definition; however, interpretation is always filtered through one’s perceptual field. The 2009 National Research Council’s report underscores the subjective risks inherent in blood-spatter analysis. “Many sources of variability arise with the production of bloodstain patterns, and their interpretation is not nearly as straightforward as the process implies.”
Dean Gialamas understands the challenge in a judicial setting. “Reliability is a tough word,” he says. “Unfortunately, what the end-user wants, right, what a jury, a judge, a trier of fact wants is absolute certainty. They want that when you see A it means B. That’s not what this science can do.” Unlike DNA or fingerprinting, Gialamas says, blood at a crime scene may be deposited through a host of dynamic actions. In the Richards case, Gialamas was enlisted by the defense to render opinions about bloodstain evidence on the defendant’s clothing. While there were indisputable similarities in both sets of observation, Gregonis and Gialamas drew sharply distinct conclusions.
In advance of his lab report, Gregonis’ training in bloodstain pattern analysis consisted of a four-day course held at the sheriff’s academy and a one-day symposium conducted by the California Association of Criminalists. He’d also served as co-instructor for the same academy course twice. Comparatively, Gialamas had taken specialty courses on blood-spatter interpretation, in addition to having presented and published forensic papers on bloodstain collection, methods and techniques. By the final trial, he was a senior criminalist with the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department. Before Richards’ first trial, Gregonis had testified four times as a blood-spatter expert. Gialamas had done so twice.
Gregonis and Gialamas agreed there was no spatter, only transfer, present on Richards’ shirt. Beside a smear-type stain on the phone’s receiver, Gregonis said he would’ve expected more blood deposited there to support Richards’ story. But Richards testified that he wiped his bloody hands on his pants and on a blue rag. A statement from Nourse’s audiotape confirmed the claim. Gregonis opined that a spot on Richards’ shoe was diluted; Gialamas refuted that assessment in his lab report. After interpreting Richards’ pants, one of the bloodstains Gregonis classified as medium-energy spatter was later determined to belong to Bill Richards. Gialamas found only two of 22 stain areas on Richards’ clothing consistent with medium-energy impact spatter. Furthermore, Gialamas testified that if a cinderblock were dropped on a head from an overtop angle, it would produce a radial pattern of blood distribution. Medium-energy spatter was found on a TV cart, wooden porch and stepping stones situated around the victim. The preponderance of transfer or contact-type smears on Richards’ clothing gave Gialamas reason for pause.
“When focusing attention on the patterns within a few feet of the victim,” he wrote in his lab report, “a serious concern arises: With all the bloodspatter found around the victim, one surely would expect to find such spatter on the perpetrator. Where are the numerous medium energy impact spatters on the clothing? The lack of finding more than two isolated stains on the clothing from William Richards strongly suggests that these clothing items were not worn by the perpetrator.”
Both criminalists performed impact experiments to enhance their judgments. Gialamas dropped a cinder block on a blood-soaked sponge to note the blood pattern and distribution deposited on nearby denim. Gregonis effectuated the same demonstrative purpose with a rat trap and bloody sponges. Gialamas also dabbed bloody tips of hair across a shoelace. After this test, Gialamas testified that given the totality of the surrounding stains, blood droplets on Richards’ shoelace which Gregonis deemed medium-energy spatter were at least equally suggestive of hair transfer. In spite of Gregonis’ dummy re-enactment, Gialamas found the evidence more consistent with Richards’ cradling account than the wearer of his clothing acting as assailant. It was Gregonis’ first experimentation to simulate a cradling event. Based on this experiment’s results, the county criminalist expected more blood on Richards’ work shirt if he’d only cradled Pam. Between the blunt-force trauma and cradling exercise, however, Gregonis testified he allotted four minutes. No test was performed to mimic contact hours after the infliction of Pam’s head wounds—at which point her body would’ve been almost entirely drained of blood. Kennedy directly challenged the experiment’s value.
“Now you’re not also asking this jury to believe that the blood-draining characteristics of your dummy’s head is the same as that of a human being who had been dead for some time and turned over, are you?”
“Not exactly, no,” Gregonis replied.
Others are far more critical of the exercise. Justin Brooks, the California Innocence Project’s founder, believes it was an absurd proposition to compare gel-type liquid, a pint of blood and latex-covered Styrofoam with flesh, bone, cartilage and brain. Simpson says he’s never seen a re-creation like Gregonis’. “I don’t know what they were trying to accomplish,” he says. “The way it looks to me, it looks like it was completely useless.”
Richards testified that he absentmindedly picked up the cinder block and dropped it during his initial stupor. Gregonis testified that backsplash from a blood pool on the ground could produce medium-energy stains on clothing. Kennedy introduced the possibility that blood flicked off fingertips may also cause medium-energy stains. However, Gregonis felt both these actions were unlikely to generate the specific stains he observed on Richards’ pants or shoelace. Gregonis described blood he saw in daylight hours as “fairly fresh,” “a nice crimson color” and “wet.” Blood on a fence “had a nice sheen to the top of it.” While there was also dirt, Gregonis recalled seeing liquid blood in the victim’s head wound. He also acknowledged that there could be captured blood in the head, and repositioning the body could’ve permitted wet or fresh blood to seep out.
As distinguished from a primary standard taken directly from the victim’s body, Gregonis educated jurors on what constitutes a secondary sample. “A secondary standard is a sample of blood that is taken either from clothing or from the crime scene which has essentially a hundred percent chance of being from the individual that it’s taken as a standard for.” Gregonis collected two secondary samples from separate bloodstains soaked into dirt near the victim. These reference samples were turned over to Criminalist David Stockwell, whose forensic specialty was serology, or the scientific study and typing of bodily fluids for identification purposes. When Kennedy asked about the potential for contamination by the suspect’s blood, Gregonis minimized the risk. During closing argument, however, Kennedy did not mince words with regard to his stance on Gregonis’ extraction method.
“I have never heard of anything so idiotic in my whole life, and he’ll never find a textbook that says that’s the way to do it. It’s obscene. And you and I deserve a better service than that.”
Saliva was detected on Richards’ collar, inside a bloodstain measuring about an inch in diameter. The prosecution’s pat theory was that Richards never cradled his wife’s body, he only carried her after the assault. It was an “equally plausible explanation,” Gregonis told Kennedy, that the saliva was previously emitted by the shirt’s wearer in everyday speech.
Because investigators found a broken fingernail attributable to Pam located feet from the generator, blood pools in the same location were not analyzed until the second trial. Gregonis merely presumed the blood was shed by Pam. Most of the blood work and serology was left undone until that juncture as well.
Two days after the first trial ended in a hung jury on Aug. 31, 1994, R. D. Knadler, the Specialized Detective Division’s captain, issued an interoffice memo to P. Michael Kellet, the Scientific Investigations Division’s laboratory manager. Priority lab work was the subject. In preparation for a retrial, it enumerated 15 forensic tasks that had not been completed to date.
“Detectives interviewed some of the jurors from the trial,” it reads, “and learned they perceived several deficiencies in the People’s case, a portion of which had to do with forensic work which was not completed.” Among other items, it ordered Pam’s blood typed, her fingernail scrapings checked for trace evidence, bloodstain identification, analysis and comparisons from recovered pillows, and examinations of various other bloodstains throughout the crime scene. Stiglitz suggests the memo demonstrates a circle-the-wagons mentality. “‘We gotta get our act together,'” he imagines they admonished one other. “‘We have to come up with evidence to convict. Let’s get our ducks in a row.’ So I think the word went out that we want to make sure our testimony supports guilt here.”
Bill Richards’ fingernails were never scraped for trace evidence. Bradford testified that it would’ve been pointless since Richards had already acknowledged bodily contact with his wife. However, Sheridan discovered wounds on Pam during autopsy that were consistent with scratch marks. On cross exam, Bradford admitted that in retrospect, he would have taken the fingernail scrapings to quash Smith’s line of questioning. No dusting for fingerprints was ever done on the cars, phone, storage shed, motor home interior or two smooth fist-sized rocks.
Two fingertips were severed at autopsy and transported to Gregonis in a single jar. Again, Kennedy raised the issue of contamination prevention. “It’s not the ultimate way to do things but I think considering that they both came from the same individual, I don’t find it offensive at all,” Gregonis mused. “I think that the optimal [way] to do it would be to have packaged those two in two separate jars,” he testified.
“I cannot state that he is in fact the assailant, no,” Gregonis testified in the first mistrial. The last mistrial, however, evinced a change of heart. “Based on the physical evidence, as well as statements that I have been privileged to read from Mr. Richards, and other evidence that is being presented in court, I believe that William Richards first strangled and then bludgeoned his wife to death.”
Irving Root gave defense testimony in two mistrials, but passed away in 1995 before the decisive 1997 trial. From 1965 until 1991, Root served in the field of forensic pathology in San Bernardino County’s employ. His first 15 years were spent as a part-time pathologist. In 1980 he assumed full-time pathologist’s duties for the county’s coroner’s office. Root retired in June 1991. Contemporaneous to Richards’ first trial, he was the People’s witness on cause of death for two trials being prosecuted by Gary Fagan, Risley’s boss within the district attorney’s office. At the time, Root had testified in 11 death penalty cases on appeal as the State’s expert. During his career he performed in excess of 20,000 autopsies. By contrast, Sheridan had completed 2,000.
In fact, Root testified that Sheridan trained under him as one of his residents.
“A lot of his observations, a lot of his understanding of the situation with forensic pathology, were basically spot-on in many areas,” says Dr. Thomas Young, who was trained by Root in the early ’80s. “He was respected by me.” Another of Root’s former trainees, Dr. Gregory Reiber shares similar praise. “From my perspective, he had a solid reputation in the field, and was well regarded by peers.”
Sheridan’s autopsy report and witness testimony, autopsy and crime-scene photos, and law enforcement’s investigative reports were all reviewed by Root. In turn, he drafted a summary report containing his observations and opinions. In testimony, Root readily acknowledged that time of death is an inexact science.
Root believed Pam Richards’ primary cause of death was blunt head trauma. Other factors contributed, but the blunt head injury was the predominant reason. Death did not occur instantaneously, but over a period of several minutes. The great deal of bleeding under the right side of Pam’s scalp indicated that her heart continued to pump after violent blows were leveled. Sheridan told the jury that the victim had been manually strangulated, but Root disagreed. There was an absence of pressure marks on the neck—either the victim’s or assailant’s—usual in strangulation. When blood is congested and trapped in the head, fine pinpoint hemorrhages appear about the face. Root did not observe these. Where Sheridan viewed the fracturing of both sides of the neck’s hyoid bone as one definitive proof of strangulation, Root contradicted that conclusion. In his experience, this type of injury could be produced by blunt trauma. Across the neck’s midline Root noted a telltale rectangular pattern abrasion, likely caused by a heavy, right-angle-edged instrument. Finally, there was more internal bleeding in the neck than expected from strangulation.
Nourse’s and Richards’ insights about the victim’s body temperature were used as Root’s primary reference points. Before covering her over with a sleeping bag, Richards felt his wife’s body was cold to the touch, or some slight variant thereof. Nourse indicated the body was neither warm, nor cold. Root testified that this was not a normal temperature for a live human being. Heat first escapes through exposed skin. However, the core temperature can remain much warmer as a dead body cools at a gradual rate. While a sleeping bag can temporarily increase surface temperature, the body does not warm overall and heat loss will be ongoing. Sand and dirt, Root testified, supplied the body with decent insulation as well. When Risley challenged the pathologist on this point, Root responded from the witness stand that clay, or adobe brick, had been used as effective insulating material for centuries.
A significant portion of blood was pooled under heavy-gauge-steel fencing near the victim. Grass that had grown through spaces in the grid work was flattened. Since there was a waffle pattern of injuries to the right side of Pam’s face caused by a massive head injury, with her right ear severely lacerated, Root determined that this is where the cinder block impacted her left side at least once but conceivably more times. Linear marks in crisscross patterns were documented elsewhere on the face.
When the body was rolled in the morning, dirt that had been kicked onto the face fell away. If still wet, Root would’ve expected the debris to adhere and cake into the blood.
Root bookended a pair of times to frame a window for time of death. Pam’s last verifiable act was to leave a message on Patrick’s answering machine at 7:14 p.m., whose phone purportedly recorded the exact time. A little before 11:58 p.m., Richards told Patrick by phone that his wife was deceased. Among other considerations, Root took especial note of three large bloodstains in the soil near the victim. There was a great quantity of blood in each. No blood trails connected the pools, only the blood source. Movement of the body accounted for three distinct pools. Autopsy and crime-scene photos show faint lividity present on the victim’s back, which meant the body had exsanguinated, or bled out almost completely. While an unobstructed view is impossible given the daytime photos, where the head came to rest overnight was key. “There is no photographic evidence that there is any significant amount of blood soaking into the dirt immediately under or adjacent to the victim’s head,” Root wrote. He testified a blunt-force injury of this nature without “major arteriole sprays,” or gushing blood loss from cuts to main arteries, would cause considerable postmortem drainage. Most of Pam’s blood had oozed into the soil before she was placed in the final position. Unable to peg down a definite duration for this amount of blood loss, Root estimated a time frame of “many minutes and possibly up to a few hours.”
“It is my opinion that the death of Pamela Richards occurred several hours prior to the arrival of William Richards,” he wrote in his summary report.
On cross exam, Risley pointed out Nourse’s references to a “fresh” body, and that the patrolman had seen more bodies in an EMT capacity than as a peace officer.
Root calmly replied, “I’ve reviewed many, literally hundreds of EMT reports, and I’ve never seen one of them where the EMT personnel have estimated time of death.”
Griffith Thomas, retained as the defense pathologist on the last trial, didn’t understand why routine sections of Pam’s contusions weren’t taken at autopsy. Sections are thin slices of tissue frozen for later microscopic analysis. Thomas testified that these aid time-of-death determination because they can measure the live body’s inflammatory response, or vital reaction, to wounds. Based on a visual review of the autopsy photos, he also stated that the color and well-defined appearance of some bruises indicated they were hours old before death occurred.
In the hyper-violent struggle, a tuft of light blue fibers became jammed in one of Pam’s cracked fingernails. Based on hue, fiber size and approximate weave, Gregonis told the jury that they were indistinguishable from Richards’ work shirt. Conversely, Gialamas testified that both sets of fibers were matched on superficial criteria alone. No dye test was performed due to insufficient material. Dye changes from light to dark enabled Gregonis to judge weave pattern. Kennedy scoffed at the comparison. “We don’t have a whole thread here, we have a tuft,” he asserted in closing argument. “You can’t determine a weave from even a whole thread because a weave, by definition, has to do with intersections perpendicularly or at some angle.” Prior to the Richards’ case, Gregonis had never been called to testify as a fiber analyst.
At the preliminary hearing, Bradford compared the color of Richards’ work shirt to that worn by the deputy public defender that day. Gregonis admitted to Smith that cotton is the most common fabric on earth. “I argued that belonged to 10 million shirts worldwide,” Smith reflects. “How in the world are you going to separate that to one freakin’ shirt? That I disagreed with completely.” When Gregonis microscopically inspected Richards’ shirt, he discovered no snag or missing fabric whatsoever. In testimony, the criminalist acknowledged the possibility that approximately 15 fibers would leave a visible defect in the source garment.
While no signs of the vicious beating were apparent on Richards’ shirt or bare upper body, the People drew parallels between a crescent-shaped lesion on Pam’s hand and Richards’ abnormal dentition. But Gregonis testified at the preliminary hearing that he did not see a bite mark on the victim’s hand at the crime scene. No saliva swab of the injury was collected there or at autopsy. Sheridan, in fact, testified before the last trial that the mark was not human in origin.
“It has none of the features of a bite mark at all,” he declared.
Dr. Gregory Golden was the chief forensic odontologist of San Bernardino County at the time Richards was prosecuted. Only when the defense counsel secured Golden did the prosecution retain Sperber—Golden’s colleague and referral—to rebut the prospective testimony. Golden testified that he was disappointed with how his agency had missed the bite mark, and the unsatisfactory manner it was photographed. Two days before the last trial began, Parent signed a sworn statement declaring that he’d furnished Sperber with a single autopsy photo for bite-mark analysis. It also indicated that Parent was employed by the San Bernardino County district attorney’s office at the time of the 1997 declaration. In testimony, Golden affirmed Sperber’s statement about the rarity of Richards’ under-erupted canine—as well as its incidence rate within the general population of less than two percent. After taking Richards’ dental impressions, Golden informed Smith that Richards could not be eliminated as the biter. In a random sampling of 15 of Golden’s private reference models, however, the odontologist found that one-third of these could’ve also produced the victim’s pattern injury. In the end, his report suggested that the bite-mark evidence be disregarded due to the photo’s poor quality and the bite’s generic nature.
Only at Pam’s wake did Richards notice the lesion and identify it as a bite mark. Hopkins saw it too and reinforced Richards’ opinion. He always wanted it to be woven into his defense, and fought until the fourth trial to get it in.
“I submit to you the evidence shows, yes, this relationship was coming to an end,” Risley pronounced in closing argument. As he did years before, Richards emphatically denies this view of his marriage today. “Divorce was not imminent,” he writes. He described the couple as fighters one day, lovers the next. For a time, he believed his wife was unhappy and wished to part ways. Authorities were told he was aware of her consultation with a divorce lawyer. Richards related to police that Pam did seek more independence—as she’d gone straight from her parents’ home to Richards’—in an iteration of a midlife crisis. Stark living conditions also exerted undue strain on the marriage. Finances were a stressor. Richards would later tell detectives, however, that mid-morning on Aug. 10, 1993, she finally allayed his fears. “She sat on my knee and cuddled up with me and we talked,” he said. During the heart-to-heart, Pam vowed not to leave her husband and instead resolve their marital troubles. “That, to me, was the biggest relief probably in my life.”
That morning, they ate a late breakfast at a local diner. According to Richards, Pam would later purchase two hamburgers for him with her tip money since he had gone without lunch the day before. As she bagged his meal, she placed a Kermit the Frog PEZ dispenser inside. Before leaving for work, Pam said goodbye. “She came over and hugged me and kissed me and told me how much she loved me. And I went off to work.”
Shortly thereafter, Pam visited a mall to get her husband’s boot repaired. It was fixed and later spotted still sitting in the shop’s bag at the Richards home. A family friend interviewed by police recounted Pam’s phone conversation with her in the late afternoon. Pam said her relationship just wasn’t working, but they were trying to work it out. About five minutes before afternoon closing time on the same day, a teller reported that Pam patronized her bank. The teller was already acquainted with Pam and noted she was “her normal happy self.” Her Olive Garden supervisor repeated this viewpoint after speaking with Pam by phone. Later in the evening, Pam seemed in good spirits according to her brother’s subsequent testimony.
When the fourth trial opened, Risley alluded to Pam’s affair with Patrick as a motive for the crime. To counter this stance, Richards’ coworker of five years testified that he knew Richards to speak casually about his open relationship. Logged into court exhibits was a stipulation signed by a member of a swinger’s club Pam and Bill attended in the mid-’80s. The man indicated that he and his wife had swapped partners with the Richardses. Bill exhibited no anxiety about someone engaging in sexual intercourse with his wife.
Moments before his arrest, Richards explained to Cardwell that his note outlining a division of marital assets weeks before was nothing more than the white flag of his capitulation.
“Let me tell you something about me,” he began. “I fight tooth and nail, mean as possible, for something that I believe is right. But when I reach a point of defeat, I do just the opposite. All the fight drains out of me; all the anger drains out of me. And yes, I did feel defeated because I did believe she wanted to leave me quite a while before that…I had reached that point, and that point was not aggressiveness. It was total defeat.”
The second motive, Risley projected, was Pam’s ruinous mismanagement of the couple’s finances. She was driving him into the “poorhouse,” the prosecutor said. She maxed out credit cards and bounced checks. Risley pointed to Richards’ closure of their checking account in June as proof of premeditation. It cost $12 to close because it was overdrawn. Yet in 20-plus years of marriage, Richards had previously closed four other joint accounts with his wife listed as accountholder. Separate accounts enabled them to split the bills. He was to take over the larger expenses while she was to handle three low-limit cards, Richards explained to investigators. At the bank, he did not betray any animosity toward his wife, the teller relayed under oath.
More than six months before the murder, the couple depleted resources to pay for roundtrips to Arizona. They exhausted a previous home’s equity in visits to Bill Richards’ father there, who was dying of cancer. Pam’s layoff came soon after his passing. When the repossession agent confronted the couple with his order on August 9, Richards did not react with anger or hostility. Later he told detectives that if additional payments to the finance company proved unavoidable, he was resigned to the vehicle’s forfeiture.
Pam was buried with jewelry worth $5,000, according to Richards. Borrowed money funded two funerals—one each in California and Arizona—which totaled about $12,000. Hopkins officiated both services. Quaas recalls that Richards didn’t bother about price, opting instead for the best coffin he could afford. Two weeks after the crime, Richards phoned the bank “very upset, possibly crying,” according to the teller’s remembrance from the witness stand.
Over several months they were far from insolvency, he told police, just simply living paycheck to paycheck. But after he took control of the books, he writes, they began to make headway. “We were actually approaching the best financial situation of our lives.” Off-road vehicles, furniture and electronics were all owned outright. He managed to sock away $1,500. After paying off his pickup and land, he estimated one month’s bills would’ve been payable with one week’s salary. “Within a year, we would have a new house, my own business running on the side plus my income from work.”
In the last trial’s closing argument, Risley presented an 11-minute window for the jury’s consideration. It was predicated on the prosecution’s timetable of Richards’ arrival at 11:47 p.m. minus the first 911 call at 11:58 p.m. Patrick’s earlier call was not accounted for in the arithmetic. “Eleven minutes,” he said. “I wish that the judge would just let me stop right now, shut down my argument, and we watched the clock for eleven minutes. She is not going to let me do it.”
“No,” Powers announced.
“No. But I urge you folks that when you go back in that jury room, you sit there in silence and someone get a stopwatch and you guys watch eleven minutes. I submit to you that you will be amazed how long eleven minutes can seem.”
“Actually,” the judge broke in, “we might take a break right now.”
“Close. Why don’t we take ten minutes. Normally I don’t like to interrupt an argument…”
More than two years earlier, in a different courtroom, on a different day, Kennedy delivered a resonant message in his summation.
“There are people after 10 or 15 years who have been found to have been wrongfully convicted because of what you have just seen here.”