Latest Search of Remote Area Where Mitrice Richardson's Remains Were Discovered Yields Eight More Bones
• Case that Began in Malibu Becomes More Convoluted with Each New Development •
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 that Richardson's 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 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. The family has been urging investigators to revisit the site. Interestingly, the search crew indicated that the handmade memorial was 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 on Sept. 17, 2009. Other than a possible sighting the morning of her release, there was no trace of her until park rangers checking on an abandoned marijuana grove found the remains.
The county coroner blasted sheriff's department homicide detectives for moving the remains before coroner's investigators could examine them, which may be a violation of state law and compromised the integrity of the coroner's investigation. The dispute is now being reviewed by the Office of Independent Review, the county watchdog over law enforcement agencies, which has already once determined that the LASD treatment of Richardson at Lost Hills 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 handling release procedures and the investigation of the case. They have filed speared lawsuits--the pair were never married--that have been consolidated by the court and will begin scheduling depositions next month.
Sutton, Richardson's aunt Lauren Sutton, and family friend and psychologist Ronda Hampton, have formed a triad based on relentless determination to keep the public spotlight on the dead woman. Sutton has absorbed all the costs of this effort, as well as settling her daughter outstanding obligations and burial and funeral expenses. She hopes the authorities will agree to exhume Richardson's body and conduct further specific additional testing that she believes will address and could lead to a determination of the cause of death.
Richardson was arrested at Geoffrey's restaurant on Sept. 16, 2009, for allegedly declining to pay an $89 dinner check. The restaurant manager performed a citizen's arrest and the three deputies who responded to the restaurant's telephone call directly to Lost Hills took the handcuffed woman across the mountains to the station. Patrons and restaurant personnel had described her as speaking gibberish, drawn to bright lights and acting bizarrely.
Her car, containing her purse, credit cards and cell phone that were locked inside, was towed to the Malibu impound lot in the center of the city. The same OIR report that exonerated the LASD indicated that there should be a review of release policies and other improvements to take into account the 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.
An incident (see separate story) involving a woman released on the same day that the search took place has prompted Sutton and her supporters to construe that nothing has changed in terms of the station policy that she believes resulted in her daughter's death.