Man charged with killing neighbor who was found dead in fire

Neighbors of a 19-year-old who was charged with murder after police say he confessed to killing a 61-year-old neighbor and setting her home on fire say they had no indication that the friendly teen was capable of violence.

Jeremy Dale Richards of the 3100 block of Gartside Ave. in the Windsor Mill area told Baltimore County police detectives Thursday that he stole neighbor Minnie Pearl Robinson's purse, taking $20 and a cell phone from her pocketbook, then set her home on fire, according to court records.

He was charged with first-degree murder and denied bail.

On Friday, neighbors attended Robinson's funeral and questioned what might have caused the polite teen who always said hello on his way to the basketball court to commit such a crime.

"He was a normal, very respectful, well-mannered young man," said Jane Nance, 71, who sat with her husband, Ed, 68, on their front porch Friday. They said they've known Richards since he was an infant and Robinson was their longtime neighbor.

Two doors down, Robinson's home was boarded up and shards of glass covered the porch where she'd sat nearly every afternoon. Mourners had left flowers inside the curled, iron rails of the front porch. Between the Nance and Robinson houses, the Richards home was also quiet Friday.

Cpl. Michael Hill, a county police spokesman, said Richards had lived next to Robinson all his life and that it was not uncommon for him to visit her home to chat.

"There's been some question as to whether he broke in, but we believe that because they had interacted together as neighbors, he could've knocked on the door and she would have let him in," Hill said. "They seemed to have a good relationship."

The Nances said all the residents on the short street of '50s-style ranchers were close and that many attended the funeral.

As a kid, Richards would keep a key at the Nances' house or wait there after school until his parents came home. "I got to know him like a son," Jane Nance said.

The couple said they had not noticed any changes in his behavior. While relaxing on their front porch each day, Jane Nance said, Richards would wander by and say politely " 'Hi, Mr. Nance. Hi, Mrs. Nance.'"

On Aug. 12, police and firefighters were called to Robinson's residence about 12:15 p.m. for a fire. Crews extinguished the flames and found her body in the living room.

Ed Nance was returning home when he saw the commotion and immediately called his wife, who was in Pennsylvania. She came home early.

The state medical examiner ruled Robinson's death a homicide Thursday, though the cause had not yet been determined. Hill said she had facial fractures consistent with blunt force trauma.

Fire investigators quickly suspected the blaze had been intentionally set and notified county homicide detectives, who worked with them on the case, according to Hill. Richards became a suspect and was brought in for questioning, and police say he confessed to the crime and told them where they could find Robinson's property.

"I would've given him $20," Ed Nance, said as tears ran down his wife's cheeks. She said "it just doesn't make any sense. That was not him."

Richards does not have a prior criminal record as an adult, according to court records.

Relatives of Robinson could not be reached for comment, but an obituary in her hometown newspaper in Morehead City, N.C., indicated she was a widow and mother of three.

jkanderson@baltsun.com

justin.fenton@baltsun.com

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