Woman in Mansfield slayings likely leaving Death Row
Posted Wednesday, Jun. 01, 2011
By Melody McDonald
Six years ago, convicted killer Chelsea Richardson became the first woman in Tarrant County to be sentenced to death.
But in all likelihood, Richardson, 27, will soon be leaving Death Row.
After nearly four years of legal battling, Richardson’s appellate attorney and the Tarrant County district attorney’s office agreed that the former prosecutor on her case withheld evidence and that she should get a new punishment hearing — and a life sentence. The agreement marks the second time in three years that the district attorney’s office has agreed to change the outcome of a death penalty case handled by ex-prosecutor Mike Parrish. In both cases, Parrish — who retired in 2008 amid the controversy — committed prosecutorial misconduct by withholding evidence that could have been useful to the defense.
“This office will not be a party to the infliction of death as a punishment when there is even an appearance of impropriety on the part of a prosecutor who formerly worked in this office,” District Attorney Joe Shannon said. “If the death penalty is to be used, it must be obtained legally, fairly and honestly and without the hint of a possible injustice.”
Reached by phone at his home Wednesday, Parrish said he has no problem with Richardson receiving a life sentence but emphatically denied withholding evidence or being untruthful. “The thing with Chelsea getting a life sentence, that should have happened a long time ago,” Parrish said. “That is probably what is really called for in this case, so I don’t have a problem with that at all. I do have a problem with them saying I was untruthful about something.”
This week, Richardson’s attorney, Bob Ford, and Assistant District Attorneys Chuck Mallin and Steve Conder submitted a legal document with their agreement to state District Judge Steven Herod of Eastland County, who was appointed to hear the appeal. If Herod agrees with their conclusions, he will make a recommendation to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the only entity that can order a new punishment hearing. If the appellate court agrees to the new punishment hearing, both sides then plan to enter into an agreement, and Richardson will receive a life sentence — a deal that will finally bring the case to a close.
In May 2005, Richardson received a death sentence after she was convicted of capital murder in the slayings of her boyfriend’s parents, Rick and Suzanna Wamsley of Mansfield. Authorities said Richardson; her boyfriend, Andrew Wamsley; and friend Susana Toledano killed the couple in 2003 so Andrew Wamsley could inherit his parents’ $1.56 million estate. Toledano — who did most of the shooting and stabbing — struck a deal with prosecutors and received a life sentence in exchange for pleading guilty to murder and testifying against Wamsley and Richardson. Wamsley went to trial, was convicted of capital murder and received a life sentence. Richardson, portrayed by prosecutors as the mastermind, also took her chances with a jury, who convicted her of capital murder and sentenced her to death.
In summer 2007, Ford filed a post-conviction writ of habeas corpus alleging that Richardson was illegally convicted and raising nine points of error, including that the trial judge was biased, that her defense attorneys were ineffective and, most notably, that Parrish was dishonest. Herod conducted a series of hearings over the next few years. On May 18, each side gave its final summation.
Ford’s argument centered on the credibility of Parrish, whom he called a “weasel” and a “certified cheat.” Ford argued that Parrish failed to give notes by psychologist Randy Price to Richardson’s defense team. Price’s notes could have suggested that Toledano, not Richardson, was the mastermind. To bolster his argument, Ford reminded Herod about Parrish’s misconduct in another case, which prompted the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in 2008 to overturn the conviction of Death Row inmate Michael Toney, who had been convicted for a 1995 bombing that killed three people. In that case, the district attorney’s office also agreed that Parrish committed prosecutorial misconduct when he failed to turn over to the defense 14 documents containing exculpatory or impeaching evidence.
Toney was released from prison but died in a car wreck before prosecutors decided whether to retry him. Parrish, meanwhile, received a private reprimand by the State Bar of Texas for his conduct in Toney’s case.
“This just sickens me,” Ford told Herod in the latest hearing. “Mr. Parrish should be indicted. … He’s a disgrace to the bench and the bar.”
Prosecutor Mallin told the judge that he was not going to defend Parrish’s behavior but said the psychologist’s notes — if Parrish had given them to the defense — likely would not have changed the outcome of Richardson’s trial.
Writing on the wall
After the May 18 hearing, Herod said he would consider their arguments and notify the participants of his decision soon. A few days later, however, both sides agreed to work to get Richardson’s death sentence changed to life in prison. “We fought the fight until we could go no further, when the handwriting was on the wall,” Mallin said.
In the document filed this week, both sides agreed that Parrish had been untruthful about Price’s notes, that he should have disclosed them to the defense and that it affected the punishment phase. If Richardson ends up with a life sentence, she will have to serve at least 40 years in prison before she is eligible for parole. Parrish said Wednesday that he learned about Price’s notes after the trial and that, if he had them, he would have turned them over.
“I haven’t been untruthful about anything,” he said.
Ford said Parrish is lying about not knowing of the notes during the trial. “If Randy Price’s notes had been turned over when they should have been turned over, there is no way Chelsea Richardson was ever going to receive the death penalty from that jury or any other jury,” Ford said. “… I think we reached a just result.”