A year after a Bel Air teen was accused of murdering his father, supporters say they still stand behind him.
More than 20 people rallied in the rain Wednesday outside the Harford County courthouse in Bel Air for Robert C. Richardson III, who appeared in court for a pre-trial hearing about his visits with defense lawyers. Inside, they held hands in the hallway for a prayer circle, then filled the benches of the courtroom, where they caught a glimpse of the 17-year-old, shackled and in a gray striped jumpsuit.
"This is a kid who's known very little love in his life," said Bel Air resident Eileen Siple, 50, whose daughter is a friend of Richardson's. "We have to step up to be here for him."
Richardson is charged as an adult with first- and second-degree murder in the death of his father, Robert C. Richardson Jr., 58, last January. Investigators say the teen shot his father, left the body in a pond near his grandmother's Aberdeen home and confessed to the killing. He is being held at the Harford County Detention Center.
Supporters say they believe Richardson's father abused him and contend that the teen, whose mother died when he was a child, should be tried as a juvenile.
In the weeks after his arrest, some members of Richardson's family defended his father, saying that though the two had a difficult relationship, the son was never physically abused.
Richardson appeared only briefly in Circuit Court, where defense lawyers and prosecutors told Judge Stephen Waldron about an agreement over the visitation issue. Several women who attended the hearing to support Richardson teared up as he whispered with his lawyers at the defense table.
Typically, defendants at the detention center meet with their attorneys through a glass window. The agreement will let Richardson's lawyers visit him without that barrier.
Stefanie McArdle of the public defender's office said after the hearing that face-to-face visits with no glass window are crucial for developing "trust and rapport with a kid who's already traumatized."
"He's in a cell 23 hours a day by himself," she said. "It's of paramount concern for a juvenile."
Richardson's trial is scheduled for May. A March hearing is scheduled, at which the defense will try to suppress his confession and evidence obtained by a search warrant, McArdle said.
Richardson received an outpouring of support after he was charged. Many asked whether the community could have done more to help him before the killing.
At the rally before the hearing Wednesday, supporters chanted "Justice for Robby" and waved signs with messages that included "It Takes a Village" and "Don't Abuse the Abused."
Siple said those at the rally — who included Richardson's friends, their parents, a half-sister and people who didn't know him well — want to bring attention not only to his case, but to wider issues of juvenile justice and child abuse.
William "Joe" Sullivan, 36, a carpenter whose daughter dated Richardson, said he's determined to "stand behind him no matter what."
Sullivan said he has known Richardson since the boy was 9 or 10.
At the rally on Main Street, Sullivan pulled out an envelope from jail. He's tried to help Richardson by writing letters and sending money to his commissary account, he said.
The letter, splattered with raindrops, was addressed to Dad.
"He used to call me Mr. Joe," Sullivan said. "Now he wants to call me dad."