CRIME, POLICE + COURTS

Kouri Richins’ attorneys ask for case dismissal, say she won’t receive a fair trial due to publicity

Oct 12, 2023, 7:55 AM

Kouri Richins, center, talks with her lawyers during a bail hearing in 3rd District court in Park C...

Kouri Richins, center, talks with her lawyers during a bail hearing in 3rd District court in Park City on June 12. A judge has ruled she will remain in jail, without bail, while charges accusing her of murdering her husband are pending. (Mark Wetzel, KSL-TV)

(Mark Wetzel, KSL-TV)

SALT LAKE CITY — Attorneys for a Kamas mother accused of killing her husband by secretly giving him a fatal dose of fentanyl, and then writing a children’s book about grieving the loss of a loved one, have asked the court to dismiss the case.

The attorneys allege prosecutors violated the due process rights of Kouri Darden Richins, 34, when they publicly filed a letter they said was found in her jail cell in which she allegedly asked her mother and brother to give false testimony at her trial.

Richins is charged with aggravated murder, a first-degree felony, in connection with the March 2022 death of her husband, 39-year-old Eric Richins. She is accused of killing her husband secretly by giving him a fatal dose of fentanyl.

In a motion for dismissal filed on Wednesday, Richins’ attorneys say the state participated in “prosecutorial misconduct” that will make it “no longer possible” for her to receive a fair trial.

The state motioned for a gag order in May, requesting relief from “overwhelming media interest” that could lead to “pre-trial tainting of the jury pool,” Richins’ attorneys note in the request for the case to be dismissed.

The attorneys allege the state publicly accused her “of witness tampering, while admitting it has no evidence that such a crime occurred” when prosecutors filed the so-called “Walk the dog!!” letter on Sept. 15.

Prosecutors said the six-page handwritten letter to her mother was found inside a book during a search of Richins’ cell in the Summit County Jail. The letter instructs her mother and brother to provide false testimony in the case, prosecutors said in September.

Scrawled across the top of the six-page letter are the words “Walk The Dog!! But take vague notes so you remember.” The letter expresses a desire to link Eric Richins getting drugs from Mexico to the fentanyl that caused his death. In the letter, Kouri Richins allegedly wants her brother to say Eric Richins told him he got pain pills and fentanyl from Mexico through workers at a ranch.

In the letter, she said the testimony “can be short and to the point but has to be done.” She asked her mother, Lisa Darden, to pass the information to her brother in person, saying her mother’s home and phone could be bugged.

In the motion for the case to be dismissed, Richins’ attorneys allege the letter being made public was a violation of rules of civil and criminal procedure.

“The state has submitted documents on the court’s public docket that has undermined the integrity of these proceedings. The resulting prejudice to Ms. Richins is irreversible,” the attorneys said. They allege the state’s actions undermine the defense’s credibility and “flagrantly disregards the truth and its ethical duties, all to the detriment of Ms. Richins.”

A police report was filed along with the “Walk the dog!!” letter, and the report states the letter was found folded and hidden in a book. Richins’ attorneys say it was instead obtained through “a potentially illegal search of Ms. Richins’ documents which were stored in an envelope titled ‘Skye Lazaro (Attorney Privilege).'”

“By filing the police report on the public docket, the state ignores the longstanding concerns related to the reliability and admissibility of such reports. More important, the state ignores the glaring risk of prejudice to Ms. Richins,” the attorneys said.

The state also requested a no-contact order and said the order was necessary “to prevent (Richins) from further engaging in witness tampering,” attorneys note.

Richins has not been charged or convicted of witness tampering, her attorneys noted, alleging that her due process rights were violated when the state “falsely and publicly (declared) that she is guilty of ‘witness tampering.'”

The attorneys argue that the media coverage of the “Walk the dog!!” letter has compromised her right to a fair trial. They said that “within minutes” of the letter and no-contact motion being filed, they began receiving requests for comment from reporters. Within a few days, “countless” media outlets had reported on the situation and “were parroting the state’s claims of witness tampering and attempts to compel false testimony,” the attorneys said.

Should the charges not be dismissed, Richins’ attorneys request the court to disqualify the Summit County Attorney’s Office from the trial and move the case to Salt Lake County. The attorneys also request that the court suppress all evidence related to the “Walk the dog!!” letter and ensure that jury instruction precludes “consideration of the state’s false claim that Ms. Richins had engaged in witness tampering.”

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Kouri Richins’ attorneys ask for case dismissal, say she won’t receive a fair trial due to publicity