Chelsea Richardson, the first woman in Tarrant County ever to be sentenced to death, is likely to have her sentence reduced to life in prison after her appellate lawyers alleged prosecutorial misconduct. I’ve written extensively about 27-year-old Richardson over the years, ever since she and her boyfriend Andrew Wamsley, with whom I attended high school, murdered his parents in their family home back in 2003, just streets away from where I myself grew up in the Fort Worth suburbs.
With this appeal won, Richardson’s case is a stirring example of why the death penalty is a terrible, terrible idea. From the Star-Telegram:
After nearly four years of legal battling, Richardson’s appellate attorney and the Tarrant County district attorney’s office agreed that the former prosecutor on her case withheld evidence and that she should get a new punishment hearing — and a life sentence.
The agreement marks the second time in three years that the district attorney’s office has agreed to change the outcome of a death penalty case handled by ex-prosecutor Mike Parrish.
In both cases, Parrish — who retired in 2008 amid the controversy — committed prosecutorial misconduct by withholding evidence that could have been useful to the defense.
The evidence in question are notes made by a psychologist that seem to indicate the state’s witness, Richardson’s best friend Susana Toledano, who DNA evidence placed at the scene of the crime, had more of a part in planning the brutal murders than previously thought. (Rick and Susanna Wamsley were stabbed and shot multiple times apiece.)
I’ve appeared on two different television programs talking about the murders, and I’m struck by the extent to which outsiders in the case (read: television producers) have been eager to paint Chelsea Richardson as a manipulative mastermind who railroaded Toledano and Wamsley into committing the crimes. I sat through both Andrew and Chelsea’s trials, and both times, I got the impression that Richardson was little more than a dim, petty and jealous girl who was angry about being poor and desperate to play into some kind of Bonnie and Clyde fantasy. Quite frankly, the idea that Richardson was the main player in manipulating Wamsley into killing his own family and wholesale convincing a weak-willed Toledano to stab and shoot a couple of strangers eighteen or nineteen times is preposterous to me.
Andrew Wamsley was sentenced to life in prison while Richardson got death, and that always seemed like a grave injustice to me considering the testimony of Toledano, who described how Andrew heartlessly shot and killed his own father in the foyer of the family home while the man begged for mercy. The whole lot of them are soundly despicable people, and I’m happy to seem them locked up for life.
But what gives me extreme pause in the whole situation is this quote from the prosecutor, who apparently now says he couldn’t give two shits whether Richardson lives or dies, so whatever:
Reached by phone at his home Wednesday, Parrish said he has no problem with Richardson receiving a life sentence but emphatically denied withholding evidence or being untruthful.
“The thing with Chelsea getting a life sentence, that should have happened a long time ago,” Parrish said. “That is probably what is really called for in this case, so I don’t have a problem with that at all. I do have a problem with them saying I was untruthful about something.”
Forgive me, but this man demanded a jury give this woman the ultimate punishment and four years later he kind of feels like well, sparing her life would have been okay, just don’t say I ever lied about anything, me me me me me? This is how we kill people in the American justice system, are you fucking kidding me?
The death penalty is unconscionable, and there’s no way to weed out unscrupulous, callous prosecutors like Parrish until after they’ve made grave mistakes gambling with people’s lives.