Robert C. Richardson III

Robert C. Richardson III has been charged as an adult in the death of his father. (submitted photo / BALTIMORE SUN / January 9, 2012)

A Harford County teenager admitted to a judge Wednesday that he shot and killed his father, an act he told police was motivated by years of abuse at the hands of a man who treated him like he "was his slave."

Robert C. Richardson III, now 18, pleaded guilty to manslaughter and a handgun allegation as part of a deal with prosecutors, who dropped more serious charges in the 2012 death of Robert C. Richardson Jr. — a case that both sides said shows people must act when they suspect a child is being mistreated.

"The state believes that there were people who had some idea of what was going on," prosecutor Diane Adkins Tobin said in court. "They really had a responsibility to the defendant to say something."

Judge Stephen Waldron sentenced Richardson to 18 years in prison, though his lawyer believes he could be eligible for parole in less than a decade. Richardson's supporters, drawn to his cause by the allegations of abuse, wanted him tried in juvenile court, where sentences are focused on rehabilitation.

A statement of facts read in court Wednesday said Richardson lived in constant fear of his father, who threatened to kill him and terrorized him with firearms. He now suffers from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, the statement said.

Defense attorney Kay Beehler called the abuse "severe and long-term."

Family members could not be reached for comment, but those who made a victim impact statement on behalf of the elder Richardson in court did not address the allegations of abuse. Some relatives have previously denied that he harmed his son.

Tobin said it would have been difficult to prove that the abuse did not happen. She called the father's death a tragedy that could have been avoided, saying there were people in the community who suspected mistreatment.

Richardson was 16 when he was charged; His mother died of cancer when he was 10.

According to court documents Tobin read aloud at the hearing, Richardson admitted to shooting his 58-year-old father as he watched television in bed. A medical examiner found that the man had died of a single gunshot wound to the back of his head, she said.

That night, Richardson was instant-messaging on the computer with a friend, Tobin said. He took a drink from a bottle of rum in his bedroom before firing the shot. He later told police he had decided a few weeks earlier that he would kill his father because he "had enough."

Later, two boys, ages 14 and 16, helped him move the body to a pond near his grandmother's home in Aberdeen, where police found it wrapped in a bedsheet, Tobin said.

Police also said Richardson called his sister and told her he had shot their father.

Prosecutors dropped first- and second-degree murder charges as part of the agreement. Richardson could have faced life in prison had the case gone to trial.

On Wednesday, Richardson, dressed in a light blue button-down shirt and khakis, did not address the court. He hung his head and covered his face with his hands as the prosecutor read statements from his aunt and grandmother about the heartbreak his father's death had caused their family.

In the statement, his grandmother said she couldn't face getting up every morning near the pond where the boys dumped the body of the elder Richardson — relatives called him "Bobby." She said she didn't know how to feel about her grandson

"Should I love him? Should I hate him? I don't know." Flo Richardson said in the statement. "Bobby would have wanted me to love him."

After the teen was charged, many in the community reached out to support him, holding fundraisers and rallies to bring attention to his case. Many attended court Wednesday, and some cried during the hearing.

After the hearing, one supporter, Eileen Siple, said she had "mixed feelings." She said Richardson was fortunate that he was not sentenced to life in prison.

"He's been damaged by his childhood and now damaged by the system," said Siple, whose daughter is a friend of Richardson's. "I'm grateful, but I'm angry that the system has done this to this child."

Waldron called the case "an utter tragedy."

"So many people have suffered in this case, on both sides," he said. "And the loss will never end."

Richardson's lawyers had sought to have him tried as a juvenile and to move him to a juvenile detention facility, saying he was suffering from the effects of isolation while in solitary confinement at the Harford County Detention Center.

Richardson was sentenced to serve his time at the Patuxent Institution, where he will participate in a program for youthful offenders. Defense attorney Stefanie McArdle said after the hearing that she hopes he can build a life for himself. She called him a child who "fell through the cracks."

"He never had a childhood," she said.

Baltimore Sun reporter Colin Campbell contributed to this article.

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