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Friday, February 29, 2008
Gov. Urges Richard Sentence Review
By T.J. Wilham And Scott Sandlin
Journal Staff Writers
Gov. Bill Richardson on Thursday tossed the political hot potato of a two-year prison sentence for Marine Elton John Richard II back into the judge's lap and said he might act if the judge doesn't.
"Governor Richardson is urging the judge in this case to re-evaluate the harsh sentence," said a statement issued late Thursday by Richardson spokesman Gilbert Gallegos.
"Should he not take this step, the governor is willing to consider a request for executive clemency," the statement said.
Bernalillo County District Judge Albert "Pat" Murdoch sentenced Richard to two years in state prison last Friday for the Dec. 30, 2004, fatal shooting of Daniel Romero, who was attempting to steal Richard's Ford Bronco from in front of his house.
He also ordered Richard to pay Romero's family $500 a month in restitution for five years.
Richard pleaded no contest last October to voluntary manslaughter.
Murdoch said he will not reconsider the sentence.
"I worked long and hard on the Elton Richard decision, learned everything I could learn about the facts and the law, and imposed a sentence that is fair under the circumstances," the judge said in a telephone interview. "The governor can exercise his power to grant clemency whenever and however he deems appropriate.
"Normally, we have a motion filed for a judge to reconsider a sentence, and that has not been filed. At this point, the answer is no. I did the best I could with this case. I would prefer not to comment on whether I am surprised by this action."
The state's self-defense law does not give people the right to chase down and kill a burglar, legal experts have said.
Although Richard could have faced up to six years on the sentence, his attorneys cited his war record in Operation Iraqi Freedom, his absence of criminal convictions and the nature of the offense in arguing for probation.
Richard is being held at the Metropolitan Detention Center.
An intense public outcry yielded over 160 calls and e-mails to the Governor's Office by midweek. Richard, a National Nuclear Security Administration courier with a Q clearance and a gun, left his house armed with a .38 revolver when he heard a noise and went to investigate what he believed was a break-in. Instead, he discovered Romero trying to steal his Bronco.
Richard first tussled with Romero, who held a mallet, in his front yard. He then chased Romero, ordering him to stop. At Paseo del Norte, about a quarter-mile from where Richard lived at the time, Richard fired a single, fatal shot.
The family has since moved back to Richard's hometown of Beaumont, Texas.
After learning about the governor's statement, Richard's wife, Erica, said in a phone interview Thursday: "I honestly believe this is great. I want him home as soon as possible."
"In view of the public outcry, I wasn't surprised," District Attorney Kari Brandenburg said. "We're not going to take any position on this. We did our piece. Our piece was to look at the case, present it to the grand jury, prepare it for trial and present a fair plea offer to Mr. Richard. We have done that."
Richard attorney Billy Blackburn said he and Richard immediately began talking about asking the judge to reconsider the "extremely harsh sentence."
"Among other things, it was clear there was some misinterpretation of the facts that contributed to the outcome," Blackburn said late Thursday.
The motion will emphasize that, after the last confrontation witnessed by a neighbor, there was not a chase, he said.
"The evidence clearly shows Elton was following Romero and waiting for the police to arrive.
"I'm very thankful to the governor," he said.
Fort Worth attorney James Korth, Richard's platoon commander in Iraq who spoke for his friend at the sentencing hearing, said his law firm is setting up a trust to provide for the family. Funds from the trust will also be directed toward Richard's civil and criminal defense, he said.