Eight More Bones Found in Latest Search of Remote Area Where Mitrice Richardson's Remains Were Discovered
• Case Becomes More Convoluted as Each New Development Raises Complicated Issues
BY ANNE SOBLE
A field search directed by the Los Angeles County Coroner's Search Operations Response Team on Sunday found eight bones that may belong to Mitrice Richardson in the same remote Malibu Canyon backcountry where most of the missing 24-year-old's remains were found last August.
Two groups of six persons were helicoptered in by the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department, including people involved in the coroner department's study that concluded her cause of death could not be determined. A human-remains retrieval German shepherd was also airlifted in.
The recovered bones were described at a press conference held at Lost Hills Sheriff's Station that day as neck, finger, wrist, and rib remains. It was not stated, but onlookers believed the find did not include the hyoid bone, which could indicate choking or strangulation, a supposition raised by Richardson's mother, Latice Sutton, who believes her daughter was sexually assaulted and then murdered.
It is now believed that more than 90 percent of Richardson's skeleton has been collected.
When Sutton visited the search site last November to place a handmade memorial there, a finger bone was found, which spurred her to push for a repeat search, the implementation of which had been hampered by usually heavy rainfall for that time of year. Despite these rains, however, the search crew indicated that the memorial is still intact.
The majority of Richardson's skeletonized and partially mummified remains were found 11 months after her release from the Lost Hills Sheriff's Station just after midnight on Sept. 17, 2009. Other than a possible sighting that morning, there was no trace of the honors college graduate and beauty pageant contestant until park rangers checking on an abandoned marijuana grove found the remains.
The county coroner has blasted sheriff's department homicide detectives for moving these remains before coroner's investigators could examine them, which may be a violation of state law, as well as compromised the coroner's office's investigation. The dispute is now being reviewed by the Office of Independent Review, the county watchdog over law enforcement agencies, which has already determined that the LASD's overall treatment of Richardson was proper.
But Sutton and Richardson's biological father Michael Richardson (her stepfather Larry Sutton helped raise her) have sharply criticized the sheriff's department's inmate release procedures and the investigation of the case. The parents have filed separate lawsuits—the pair never married—that have been consolidated by the court and will begin scheduling depositions next month.
Sutton, with Mitrice Richardson's aunt, Lauren Sutton, and psychologist and family friend, Ronda Hampton, have formed a triad based on relentless determination to keep the public spotlight on the dead woman and the need for additional investigative efforts.
Sutton has absorbed all the costs of this campaign, as well as the settling of all of her daughter's outstanding obligations—including the college loans—and all funeral and burial expenses. She is urging authorities to exhume Richardson's body and conduct specific additional testing that she believes could lead to a determination of the cause of her daughter's death.
Richardson was arrested at Geoffrey's restaurant on Sept. 16, 2009, for allegedly being unable to pay an $89 dinner check. Patrons and restaurant personnel described her as speaking gibberish, drawn to bright lights and acting bizarrely. The restaurant manager performed a citizen's arrest and the three deputies who responded to the scene took the handcuffed Richardson through the mountains to the Lost Hills station.
Her car, containing her purse, credit cards and cell phone were locked inside her vehicle, which was towed to the Malibu impound lot in the center of the city. The same OIR report that exonerated the LASD indicated the need for a review of release policies and improvements that take into account LHSS's remote location. Because station personnel are not allowed to discuss the case with the media, it is not possible to determine whether any of the recommended reforms have been implemented, let alone studied.
An incident (see separate story) involving a woman released on the same day as the Sunday search has prompted Sutton and her supporters to construe that nothing has changed in terms of the station policies that she believes resulted in her daughter's death.