Malibu Surfside News

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Sunday, November 07, 2010

Mitrice Richardson’s Family Questions Accuracy of Location Used by Coroner to Recover Bones

SAR Crew Takes Mother to Remote Site for Private Memorial Where She Finds a Bone

By Anne Soble

No sooner is one set of questions aired, concerning the improper handling of the remains of Mitrice Richardson by Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department homicide detectives, than another equally confounding issue takes center stage.

Richardson is the 24-year-old Los Angeles woman, who went missing after her booking at the Lost Hills Sheriff's Station in September 2009 for nonpayment of a Malibu restaurant tab and, according to the county coroner, was found dead of unknown causes 11 months later.

On Saturday, the Malibu Surfside News learned that Latice Sutton, the mother of the dead woman; a close aunt, Lauren Sutton; and Richardson’s college mentor, psychologist Ronda Hampton, hiked in with the support of Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department Search and Rescue crew members, headed by Sgt. Tui Wright, a veteran of difficult local mountain searches.

The early morning trip had been arranged by Sheriff Lee Baca at the behest of the family, and they say they now regard it as critical to helping to address concerns they have had since Richardson’s skeletonized and mummified remains were found on state parkland in a remote area off Malibu Canyon on Aug. 9.

The three women were accompanied by the forensic anthropologist the mother has involved in the ever more complicated case, Clea Koff, who said she believes that “it is clear that where we were taken today is not the same location where the coroner’s crew recovered bones” on Aug. 25, two weeks after the initial finding of Richardson’s skull and separated remains.

Sutton said she “is working with Koff, a forensic anthropologist who has gathered evidence of war crimes and genocide for the UN International Criminal Tribunals in the killing fields of Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia and heads the Los Angeles-based Missing Persons Identification Resource Center, which assists families of the missing in communicating with law enforcement and coroners’ offices to facilitate identifications and investigations.”

Compounding the concerns about the accuracy of the location, Sutton found a small bone—Koff says it appears to be phalangeal—while preparing the dirt for an impromptu memorial of flowers, crosses, photos and other personal mementos.

The perimeter of the site, the location of which is not being made public by The News, is marked by narrow orange tape, which is still in place despite recent rains.

Koff told The News that there was no difficulty communicating by cell phone or SAR radios with the Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station or the coroner’s office, which raises questions about LASD spokesperson Steve Whitmore’s statement to The News two weeks ago regarding the difficulty of communications from the area.

Mike Gennaco, the head of the Office of Independent Review, which is supposed to provide oversight on the sheriff’s department, accompanied the family group that hiked and then was airlifted out of the location.

Gennaco indicated to the family that he has now personally assumed direction of the ongoing investigation into the issue of LASD homicide detectives disregard of coroner’s directions and their improper removal of Richardson’s remains from the site, the subject of articles in the last three issues of The News.

Additional information on the memorial visit and the growing list of questions now being raised will follow in the upcoming online and print editions of The News.
FAIRWELL— Latice Sutton, wearing a protective blue jumpsuit provided by the LASD Search and Rescue crewmembers, who took family members to the site where Mitrice Richardson’s remains were found, spends a quiet moment alone with the memorial she prepared for her daughter. She said she was grateful to Sheriff Lee Baca for arranging the opportunity to visit the location where Richardson’s remains were found.
FIND—Latice Sutton found this small bone as she prepared the ground for a memorial to her daughter.