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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Mitrice Richardson’s Mother Issues Another Call for FBI Involvement

• Takes Strongest Stand Yet that Daughter Was Murdered after Her Lost Hills Release

BY ANNE SOBLE


The mother of Mitrice Richardson took one of her strongest public stands so far, stating that she thinks her daughter was murdered and sexually assaulted and the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department is unable to conduct an aggressive and thorough investigation of the allegations because it has a “conflict of interest” attributable to its own negligence and shoddy police practices.
Latice Sutton said there is no way an agency intent on shielding its own mistakes can give Richardson’s case the attention it deserves. Sutton said only the involvement of the FBI and its national crime lab has the potential to provide answers to the growing list of questions surrounding the 24-year-old Los Angeles woman’s death.
Speaking at a press conference on Monday, Sutton said that although Sheriff Lee Baca and others keep saying that it will not be possible to determine how Richardson died, her daughter’s remains “scream and yell her story,” and the science that can help decipher these screams is available and needs to be applied.
Sutton took this forceful position at the briefing held in the New Testament Church where her daughter’s funeral was held in August and the nave was filled with family and friends who openly vowed that they would keep up the fight to bring justice to the dead woman.
Sutton also took aim at the Los Angeles County Department of Coroner and explained that she engaged outside forensic expertise to address her concerns about the coroner’s procedures and report.
Numerous written communications with the coroner’s office have begun addressing these concerns. Last week, a coroner’s department Special Operations Response Team, or SORT, crew was scheduled to return to the site in a steep Malibu Canyon ravine where Richardson’s remains were found 11 months after she mysteriously disappeared in September 2009, but the recent series of powerful winter storms made accessing the terrain difficult until the area dries out.
The press conference was also another opportunity for Sutton to keep the attention of the mainstream media on the African-American honors college graduate and beauty pageant competitor who may have been in the throes of a bipolar episode when she spent several days in her car in Malibu.
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 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 in an area where neighbors think growing still may be taking place. According to the county coroner’s official report, the cause of death could not be determined from Richardson’s remains.
A dispute over the mishandling of those remains between the coroner’s office and the LASD is currently under investigation by a joint agency task force and the Office of Independent Review, the ostensible watchdog over sheriff’s department practices.
Sutton expressed hope that the OIR will also reopen issues she said were ignored when the OIR issued a report in July that concluded that deputies at the Lost Hills Station treated Richardson “properly and legally.”
Sutton has said the mishandling of the remains, which LASD now acknowledges after publicly denying it, compromised the county coroner’s office ability to evaluate the remains, and she involved Clea Koff with the nonprofit Missing Persons Identification Resource Center to do a private evaluation before her daughter was buried.
Now, four months later, this evaluation is said to provide grounds for Sutton’s request to county Chief Medical Examiner Lakshmanan Sathyavagiswaran to approve exhumation and extensive retesting and new testing of her daughter’s remains.
Sutton said that among the procedures she has requested is a craniotomy, which involves surgical opening of the skull for detailed examination, noting that a “defect” on the woman’s skull that was not discovered by the coroner’s team might be an indication of a sharp blow to the head.
Also deemed important is that the woman’s hyoid bone, a neck vertebra, is missing. The hyoid is a horseshoe-shaped bone in the anterior midline of the neck. Due to its position, it is not usually susceptible to fracture. When murder is suspected, a fractured hyoid might indicate choking or strangulation.
Because the hyoid is not articulated, careless handling of remains might have led to it being dropped or otherwise lost.
That Richardson was strangled is a hypothesis shared by several residents of the Monte Nido area who say they heard cries for help from a residence in the vicinity and a possible stifling or muffling of a cry that they fear might have been Richardson’s last breath.
Another aspect of the coroner’s findings questioned by the mother’s research team is the separate batch of hair found with the remains that wasn’t x-rayed. Koff said she found jewelry and artifacts in the hair that may or may not even be Richardson’s.
The private analysis also raises questions about the handling of the articles of clothing found in the vicinity of the remains, including Richardson’s unzipped jeans, her unhooked bra and unbuckled belt. Not found so far are her two shirts, tennis shoes, underpants or hat.
While some county officials have said they surmise that wild animals removed the clothing, or flowing floodwater had taken it off the body, both explanations were quickly refuted.
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.
As for flooding removing articles of clothing from a body, Koff, who has a master’s degree in forensic anthropology and has done field work for the United Nations international criminal tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, displayed sketches that showed extreme flexion of woman’s left arm, which would have made removal of upper body attire virtually impossible.
It is also asserted that LASD detectives mishandled not only the skeletal remains but also the clothing, as they never sent it to the sheriff’s department’s own highly ranked crime lab for DNA sampling and other testing.
Indeed, the detectives 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 for future analysis, which she wants done by the FBI.
Koff also questioned why the dead woman’s pubic hair had not been combed for fibers and unidentified hair samples.
There are other issues related to inadequate assessment of teeth anomalies, such as possible pink discoloration. Also being recommended is collection and analysis of leaves and organic matter embedded in the separate hair.
Similarly sought is collection and analysis of pupae casings. Koff asserts that the casings from which maggots hatch that were found on the remains were never tested to determine if the insects were consistent with the area where the remains were found.
This could be important as there has been ongoing conjecture that Richardson was killed somewhere else, stored at that or another location, then moved to the Malibu Canyon area site.
Sutton and a close circle of supporters are scheduled to meet with Sheriff Baca at his office on Dec. 29.
At her press conference, Sutton said, “Baca may not have all the information he should have about this case.” She said, “He was surprised to learn her clothing was never analyzed,” which prompted Sutton to inquire, “What else is he not being briefed on?”
Repeated often throughout the Monday briefing was the refrain, “Mitrice has a lot to say.” Her family is determined to make certain that people listen.

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