FBI Is Going to Come On Board the Mitrice Richardson Case
• Sheriff Baca Agrees to Major Shift in Policy at Meeting with Woman's Mother on Dec. 29 •
BY ANNE SOBLE
Gratified to have accomplished the goal of months of intensive family campaigning, the mother of Mitrice Richardson announced on Tuesday that Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca has confirmed that he has contacted the Federal Bureau of Investigation about getting involved in the case of the 24-year-old Los Angeles woman who was found dead in Malibu Canyon backcountry in August.
Latice Sutton has outspokenly contended that only the FBI and its national crime lab outside Washington, DC, has the technical wherewithal to provide answers to the growing list of questions surrounding what she believes is her daughter's murder and sexual assault.
Sutton said Baca has begun working out the details for transfer of Richardson's exhumed remains, as well as her articles of clothing found at the remote death scene, all of which will undergo extensive new laboratory testing not performed by the Los Angeles County coroner's office. The remains and the garments are expected to be delivered to the FBI at the same time.
Richardson went missing after being booked at the Lost Hills Sheriff's Station on Sept. 16, 2009, for alleged nonpayment of a Malibu restaurant tab, at which time she reportedly was acting bizarrely, and also was determined to be in possession of a minimal amount of marijuana, even though both allegations are field-citable offenses.
Richardson was released the next morning shortly after midnight, alone, without her car, which had been taken to the Malibu impound lot, her purse, or her cell phone, in the remote industrial area where the Lost Hills Station is located.
Eleven months later, park rangers stumbled upon her partially skeletonized and mummified remains on a routine reconnaissance of a former marijuana grove less than eight miles from Lost Hills. According to the county coroner's official report, the cause of death could not be determined.
Sutton said that Baca told her of his decision to bring the FBI on board at a meeting in his office attended by the mother and some of her supporters on Dec. 29.
She said some of the logistics are still being worked out, but she praised what she described as "multi-agency cooperation that is charting new territory" in the determination of her daughter's cause of death.
Sutton, who has been critical of Baca and the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department in the past for not immediately bringing in the FBI, said on Tuesday that "their recent meetings have shown that the sheriff sees the issues and agrees that more needs to be done."
Sutton also credited Congressmember Maxine Waters for "playing an important role in keeping up public pressure" on all of the agencies from the beginning. She said that Special Projects Director Hamilton Cloud from Waters' office took part in many of the key meetings that now are producing results.
The Department of Coroner will oversee the exhumation of Richardson's remains, which will be done at county expense.
A coroner's department's Special Operations Response Team, or SORT, crew has been trying to return to the site in a steep Malibu Canyon ravine where Richardson's remains were found in August to search for additional bones and other clues, but this effort has been hampered by the recent series of storms that have had a major impact on the area.
Sutton said that, among the procedures she expects to see performed by the FBI researchers, is a craniotomy, which involves surgical opening of the skull for detailed examination, and she has noted that a "defect" on the dead woman's skull that was not discovered by the coroner's team might be an indication of a sharp blow to the head.
Other research being requested is analysis of the separate batch of hair found with the remains that wasn't x-rayed, as well as an indication of why it is separate. In addition, jewelry and artifacts not reported by the coroner's office were found in this hair that may or may not even be Richardson's own hair.
The mother also wants her daughter's pubic hair combed for fibers and hair samples.
Additional forensics issues relate to what is described as inadequate assessment of possible teeth anomalies, such as pink discoloration, and the collection and analysis of leaves and organic matter embedded in the separate hair. This could be related to whether the remains might have been moved.
Similarly, considered important is collection and analysis of the pupae casings from which maggots hatched that were found on the remains but were never tested to determine if the insects were consistent with the area where the remains were found.
The articles of clothing found in the vicinity of the remains, including Richardson's unzipped jeans, her unhooked bra and unbuckled belt, will undergo their first testing in the FBI lab. Her two shirts, tennis shoes, underpants and hat have not yet been located.
The Malibu Surfside News corroborated the week after the remains were found that the clothing was in good condition and showed no signs of animal shredding to get at human tissue.
The LASD detectives and others appear to have thought so little of the clothing as evidence that they didn't even know where it was until Sutton informed them it had been left in the body bag with Richardson's remains and given to her. Sutton has stored the items in a specially controlled environment until its transfer to the FBI.
Sutton said she believes the efforts she has taken to bring new information directly to Baca and bypass the detectives assigned to the case was an important factor in his making the recent decision to involve the FBI.
Richardson's mother told the Malibu Surfside News, "I feel hope that we are going to get more answers. Additional tests are going to be performed, whereas before too many people just made assumptions."
Sutton said, "I can live with uncertainty if I know that everything was done that could possibly have been done to learn how my daughter died. I could not live with knowing that there was still so much being left undone."