The half-sister of Robert C. Richardson III recalled a tense relationship between the Harford County teen and their father Wednesday, as his family began to craft a legal strategy the day after he was accused of killing Robert C. Richardson Jr. and dumping his body in a pond.
"My brother is a good child — a good, good child," said Abigail Richardson, 20. "Everybody has their snapping point, the point where they just ... everybody has one."
She spoke after meeting with a court-appointed lawyer representing her 16-year-old brother, who has been charged with first- and second-degree murder and use of a handgun in the commission of a violent crime. A Harford County judge denied bail Wednesday for the freshman at C. Milton Wright High School in Bel Air.
Abigail Richardson said she has not communicated with her brother since the night of the crime. According to charging documents, she reported her brother's alleged actions to police. She told the sheriff's office that her half-brother had contacted her, saying he had shot their father, 58, and "was currently attempting to find a location to dispose of the body," the police records say.
State police located the teen early Tuesday while he was driving the family's 1991 Chevy Blazer.
As rationale for denying a bond, District Judge John L. Dunnigan cited the seriousness of the charges against Robert C. "Bob" Richardson III and the teen's behavior — leading police on a car chase through Bel Air until he crashed into a cinder-block wall in a church parking lot — before being arrested Tuesday. Dunnigan said Richardson's inclination to flee demonstrated a risk he would leave the jurisdiction.
Prosecutors had leveled the same arguments moments before, while encouraging the judge to keep Richardson behind bars.
Before making the ruling, Dunnigan asked Richardson whether he had family outside the state, in an effort to determine whether he had someplace to go beyond Maryland's borders.
Richardson said he had family in Florida, adding "I do not associate with them, your honor."
Neighbors of the home in the 800 block of Moores Mill Road, where the father and son have lived for several years, said that they had regularly heard loud arguments for years leading up to the shooting.
"We have no calls for domestic violence or abuse in our system," said Monica Worrell, spokeswoman for the Harford County Sheriff's Office, which is investigating the crime. "If there had been calls, we would have responded and we would have a record."
Reports of loud arguments may not prompt a response from Child Protective Services, said Stephen K. Berry, manager for in-home services at the state Department of Social Services. The agency cannot comment on individual cases that it is investigating or has investigated.
Investigators are releasing few details about the shooting, saying it is far too early in the investigation, Worrell said. Officers have recovered a handgun but have yet to determine whether it is the gun used in the crime. They have not disclosed who owned the gun or how many times the victim was shot. They have reviewed call files for the past three years and have found no reports of domestic abuse or violence.
Since January of last year, officers have served papers several times at the Richardson home, which could be for any number of reasons including traffic violations. Officers responded for a call of shots fired on July 6 but found no violations. They returned Sept. 12 for a reported smell of marijuana but were unable to find anything. The senior Richardson called in a missing persons report on his son Oct. 3 and again Dec. 9. Both times, the son was found unharmed.
At Wednesday's hearing, Richardson was questioned over a video feed. He was wearing a black and white jumpsuit and was not handcuffed. His long hair covered his forehead, and his eyes darted between the monitor he was watching and someone sitting off screen to his left.
At one point the judge asked the representative from the state's attorney's office whether the firearm used in the crime was recovered and what type of gun was used. Richardson, barely audible over the video feed, began to speak, as if the question were directed to him.
Lynne McChrystal, a public defender who was in the courtroom to represent Richardson at the bail review hearing, immediately reminded him not to speak. Dunnigan told Richardson that he should speak only with his attorney.
Earlier in the proceeding, Dunnigan asked Richardson if he had received copies of the charging documents.
"Not that I'm aware, sir," Richardson responded. "I did sign for a lot of papers, your honor, although I'm not sure that I did receive a copy of the charges."
When discussing a preliminary hearing, Richardson told the judge he thought he was scheduled for the 16th, a Monday. When the judge corrected him, and said it was set for Tuesday, the boy responded with a self-effacing smile and quiet, embarrassed chuckle.
"I could be wrong," Richardson said.
Abigail Richardson said her half-brother "didn't go to school much," and had a passion for cars. She said her father and brother were fixing up a Chevrolet Camaro but didn't pursue the hobby together. "It was more like my dad bought the parts and [my brother] would make the repairs," she said.
Abigail added, "I think that if he hadn't crashed the car he would have got away. He was a good driver."
Eric P. Macdonell, a court-appointed attorney who will represent Richardson, said after the hearing that he had just been assigned the case and was unable to comment.
"We just don't know enough right now," he said. He did say that the defense team would consider challenging Richardson's competency, among other defenses, as a legal strategy.
An investigator also has been assigned to assist with the defense.
Abigail Richardson, who lives in Harford County, met with the public defender's office for more than an hour after the hearing. She declined to comment on what was discussed.
The lawyers "told me they'd keep me posted," she said.
She added, "I wish I could talk to him now." Abigail said it was heartbreaking to see her brother on the TV screen in the courtroom. "It makes me want to cry to know my baby brother's in jail."
Grief counselors were available Wednesday to students and teachers at C. Milton Wright High School, school officials said.
Every employee or volunteer in the school system who believes or has reason to believe that a child has been abused or neglected is required to report the circumstances to Protective Services and or the police. In addition, upon becoming aware of any suspected abuse or neglect, the employee or volunteer is to bring the matter to the attention of the principal.
Police had not received any such reports on the Richardson family, Worrell said.