Redlands Daily Facts

Legal advocates aiding man accused of killing wife
Mike Cruz, Staff Writer
Posted: 01/16/2009 06:05:53 PM PST

SAN BERNARDINO - Legal advocates for a High Desert man, who was convicted in 1997 of killing his wife with a cinder block, are trying to get the conviction thrown out.

The California Innocence Project is representing William Joseph Richards in a bid to show a Superior Court judge that he was wrongly convicted.

The project filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of Richards in San Bernardino Superior Court, taking on the legal burden of proving their client's innocence.

Prosecutors argue that Richards received a fair trial, and they don't see his sentence of 25-years-to-life in state prison being overturned.

"I just don't see it happening," said Deputy District Attorney Grover Merritt, in a telephone conversation Friday. "The jury convicted him beyond a reasonable doubt, and I think the verdict should stand."

At trial, evidence revealed Richards left work late at night on Aug. 10, 1993 and arrived at his Summit Valley home to find his wife lying dead in the yard.

The petitioner called 9-1-1 and reported her dead at 11:58 p.m., court documents state.

The 40-year-old victim had been beaten with fist-sized rocks, according to the project's petition. She was then strangled, and her skull was crushed with a stepping stone and cinder block.

Richards' lawyers did not return a phone call for comment.

Sheriff's detectives built a case around Richards from the beginning, according to the petition. After three mistrials in Superior Court, two of which resulted in hung juries, Richards was convicted of first-degree murder in July 1997.

The project's petition says DNA evidence taken from under the fingernails of Richards' wife, Pamela, exonerates her husband and points to a third party. New DNA evidence also shows someone else held the murder weapon.

Petitioners allege insufficient evidence was presented at trial about a bite mark on the victim and that a county criminalist manufactured inculpatory evidence to link Richards to the death.

Richards is set to appear in court Tuesday to determine whether the petitioners should get an original videotape, as opposed to a copy, of testing done on fiber evidence taken from the victim's fingernails.

On Jan. 26, the project's lawyers are expected to call witnesses to testify at a hearing for Richards in San Bernardino Superior Court.

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