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Prosecutors look for motive in Bel Air shooting death

As Robert C. Richardson III, the 16-year-old Bel Air boy police say confessed to murdering his father, sits in the Harford County Detention Center this weekend awaiting a preliminary hearing in the case Tuesday morning, investigators and prosecutors have begun working on finding the motive for the killing.

The case is so high profile that Harford County's chief prosecutor says he'll personally direct the state's case against the teenager.

The teen, who has been charged as an adult with first degree murder in connection with the shooting death of his father, Robert C. Richardson Jr., 58, is being held in isolation at the Harford County Detention Center in Bel Air, where he is under constant watch, according to a spokesperson for the Harford County Sheriff's Office.

Harford County State's Attorney Joseph Cassilly said Thursday he will be the lead prosecutor in the case. Cassilly said his office is working on the investigation, but does not yet have anything new, including a motive.

Cassilly, Harford's top prosecutor since 1983, previously won a conviction against an 18-year-old Bel Air area teen, Timothy Scott Sherman, who was accused of shooting his parents to death with shotgun blasts as they slept in their bed in 1987. Sherman, who denied the killings, was sentenced to two life terms. Sherman later sought and received a sentence modification, over Cassilly's strong objections, after confessing to the killings. He is serving a 40-year term at the Roxbury Correctional Institution in Hagerstown, according to the online state inmate registry.

Cassilly said Thursday he considers every case to be different and declined to make any comparisons between the Richardson and Sherman cases.

Prosecutors plan to have a briefing with police, Cassilly said.

"Eventually we'll end up getting together with the police," he said, "but everything's been happening so quickly here."

Cassilly said his office is getting ready for a preliminary hearing Tuesday at 11 a.m. in Harford County District Court, which is to determine if the state has sufficient evidence to move forward with trial.

As for a motive, Cassilly said he wasn't sure that anyone has a "clear insight" on it.

Neighbors and relatives think the motive might have been continuing abuse that led the boy to snap, several told reporters for The Baltimore Sun this week.

Or, the motive might be cryptically hidden in the teen's Facebook page, which is private except for this statement that can be seen by anyone: "im a juggalo and thats all you really need to know."

In a 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment of Emerging Trends report, the FBI classified "juggalos" as a "loosely-organized hybrid gang" that is "rapidly expanding into many U.S. communities." The report also identified "juggalos" as fans of the musical group Insane Clown Posse.

Police say the younger Richardson, who lived with his father, stepmother and stepsister in of the 800 block of Moores Mill Road in Bel Air, shot and killed his father late Monday night and later led police on a chase that ended with the boy crashing his vehicle into a block wall next to a Bel Air church early Tuesday morning. He was arrested at the crash scene.

The victim's body was found partially submerged in a pond behind a home in Aberdeen owned by a relative of the Richardson family, according to police.

Richardson was charged as an adult Tuesday with first- and second-degree murder and using a firearm in the commission of a violent crime. He admitted to police that he shot and killed Robert C. Richardson Jr., according to charging documents.

Bail denied

The teen appeared via closed circuit television from the detention center before District Court Judge John L. Dunnigan for a bail review hearing in Bel Air Wednesday afternoon, where the judge ordered that he continued to be held without bail.

During the bail hearing, Public Defender Lynne McChrystal said Robert C. Richardson III is a ninth grade student at C. Milton Wright High School near Bel Air and has lived in Harford County his entire life. She requested reasonable bail for him.

Assistant State's Attorney Alison Carver asked for him to be held without bail, calling the charges "extremely serious," and mentioning that he has two pending juvenile charges for breaking and entering and drug possession.

The police chase Tuesday indicated that the 16-year-old is a flight risk, Carver said. The seriousness of the charges show him to be a possible danger to the community, she added.

Richardson told Dunnigan he has family in Florida, but does not "associate" with them.

Public Defender Eric MacDonell, who also represented Richardson at the bail hearing, said the defense will consider filing a motion to have the case reversed to juvenile status, as well as a motion to assess Richardson's competency to stand trial. Both are standard defense moves in cases where juveniles are charged as adults with serious crimes

In continuing the teen's no bail status, Dunnigan said he would set the case to move as soon as possible.

There was also a brief discussion during the hearing about what type of firearm was used in the killing.

Monica Worrell, spokesperson for the sheriff's office, later confirmed Wednesday a handgun was used to fatally shoot Mr. Richardson.

Prior calls to home

Worrell said Tuesday that the Harford County Sheriff's Office had responded to about a dozen calls in the past year at the Richardson home in the 800 block of Moore's Mill Road in Bel Air. Several involved missing children.

In one such incident, on Dec. 14, deputies were dispatched to the Aberdeen Police Department headquarters for a report of a missing child returned and found Robert C. Richardson III with his cousin, according to Worrell. The boy told police he had been in the Havre de Grace area and did not want to return home because he thought he was in trouble, Worrell added. In the missing persons report, Robert C. Richardson III told deputies his reason for leaving was because he was in trouble with law enforcement and at home.

This week's chain of events began when deputies initially responded to the 800 block of Moores Mill Road for a domestic call possibly involving a weapon at about 10:45 p.m. Monday, where they found blood and other evidence that someone could have been shot, according to a sheriff's office news release.

They then learned that Robert Richardson III left the house in a family vehicle. He was later spotted in a 1991 Chevrolet Blazer around 6 a.m. Tuesday. Officers from the sheriff's office, Bel Air Police Department and Maryland State Police pursued him until he crashed the vehicle into a block wall by Bel Air United Methodist Church at Linwood Avenue and Route 924.

The sheriff's office news releases say the 16-year-old confessed to killing his father, but they did not say how deputies discovered that the boy allegedly dumped the body into the Aberdeen pond where it was later found.

During the Harford County Council meeting Tuesday evening, Councilman Jim McMahan said Tuesday morning's police chase went past his own Bel Air home.

McMahan, who said the murder, "makes one wonder," compared Robert C. Richardson III with another teenager he recently met who is an Eagle Scout.

"What makes two young men so different?" McMahan asked rhetorically.

Danger trend

Mr. Richardson's killing was the third in and around Bel Air since mid-2010 and fourth since May 2006. In all four cases, those either charged or since convicted were 20 or younger. Prior to Robert Richardson Jr., all the victims were in their 20s.

The most recent killing before this week occurred Aug. 5, 2011, when a 29-year-old legally blind man was stabbed inside his apartment. Police charged a 17-year-old as an adult with first degree murder. He is in jail awaiting trial.

Following the stabbing last summer, Bel Air's town police chief said the town has not gotten any more dangerous, even though it had gone without a killing for almost 23 years before a 23-year-old man was stabbed to death by a 19-year-old man following a road rage incident at the start of the 2006 Memorial Day weekend.

In July 2010, a 25-year-old man was shot to death outside a party by a 20-year-old man, who pleaded guilty to second degree murder in December and received a 25-year sentence.

Aegis reporter Bryna Zumer contributed to this article.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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