COLUMBUS — After several days of intense testimony, the capital murder trial in the case of Michael Shane Richardson came to a close Saturday at 12:50 p.m.
He’ll serve life in prison without the possibility of parole. Richardson also was sentenced to 10 years in prison for possession of a gun.
On Thursday, jurors found Richardson, 30, guilty of both capital murder in the beating death of Harvey Evans and possession of a weapon by a convicted felon.
The penalty phase of the trial began Friday morning and did not conclude until 6:10 p.m.
Following the announcement of the verdict by Lowndes County Circuit Clerk Haley Salazar, 16th Circuit Judge Jim Kitchens asked if anyone wished to make a statement.
Richard Evans, Harvey Evans’ only child, rose from his seat in the audience: “Nothing that has happened today or this week will bring my father back … we are comfortable with this verdict,” Richard Evans said, fighting back tears.
As Richard Evans continued with his statement, he alluded to testimony given Thursday by Tony Cooper, a detective with the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Department. Cooper said he received a letter from Richardson days after his arrest for hitting Evans asking if God could forgive him for what he did.
Richard Evans cited John 3:16, which reads in the King James Version of the Bible, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
He then looked directly at Richardson, sitting at the defense table with de Gruy and Columbus attorney Steve Wallace.
“You asked if God can forgive you … the answer is yes. I would hope that if haven’t already found God, that you will. He will forgive you,” Richard Evans said.
Kitchens asked Richardson if he wished to say anything.
“No comment,” he replied.
Hayes-Ellis said she was happy for the family in that they can have a sense of closure in this matter.
“We are all relieved by the jury’s decision,” she said.
De Gruy said he is relieved that the jury decided on the sentence of life without parole, instead of the death penalty but is not going to rest on the decision
“This should be bring closure, especially to the Evans family. We will plan to appeal this decision,” he said.
Sherry Richardson and April Richardson, Richardson’s mother and sister respectively, cried during the reading of the decision.
April Richardson — who maintains her brother is not mentally well enough to understand the court proceedings — was so overcome with emotion, she had to leave the courtroom when sentencing was pronounced.
Michael Richardson underwent medical treatment and several evaluations before he was found competent to stand trial.
Saturday’s session opened at 9 a.m. with jury instructions before the attorneys to gave their closing arguments.
Hayes-Ellis related a story about when she was in the seventh grade; her father suffered from brain cancer, eventually succumbing to the illness. During Friday’s testimony by Michael Richardson’s mother, she mentioned her son was “huffing gas” when he was about 10 or 12 years old, Hayes-Ellis reminded jurors, trying to illustrate a pattern of substance abuse, which eventually led to Harvey Evans’ murder.
“What Harvey Evans went through was heinous and atrocious. He had to suffer. What my father went through with his brain cancer was slow,” she said
She urged the jury to follow their oath, not any emotions or sympathies.
During de Gruy’s closing arguments, he asked the jury to consider that Evans was Michael Richardson’s friend.
He also reminded the jurors that an aggravated assault charge against Richardson did not come from an incident in which he attempted to strangle his niece, Heather, who was 8 years old at the time and is now 14.
“He was shooting at the car of Steve Slayton, his sister April’s boyfriend, who had been asked to leave,” he said.
Michael Richardson, without provocation, tried to strangle Heather, an incident his sister and Hearther’s mother, April Richardson, attributes to his mental instability.
De Gruy said Richardson has always felt bad about what he did to Evans.
“I ask you to consider the request of Heather Richardson during her testimony yesterday, when she asked whatever your decision is, do not kill my uncle,” he said.
An unfair trade
Hayes-Ellis returned for a rebuttal. She said Harvey Evans’ life was worth more than a day and life filled with the purchase and using cocaine.
“That is what Michael Richardson did on Sept. 19, 2006 after he struck his friend Harvey Evans with a baseball bat,” she said.
She then asked the jury why Michael Richardson did not ask Evans or family members for help in dealing with his cocaine problem and reminded them of the incidents of violence with Heather Richardson and with Slayton.
“By the grace of God, they were able to make it out. But no one heard Harvey Evans’ cry for help,” Hayes-Ellis said.
At 10:50 a.m., the jury then deliberated for almost two hours before returning with the final decision.
On Michael Richardson’s behalf
Sherry Richardson also testified on her son’s behalf. She produced school records that indicated Michael Richardson maintained good grades through his early years.
“When he was about 10 or so, he started sniffing gasoline,” she said.
April Richardson, who also testified on her brother’s behalf, considered Michael Richardson her best friend, she said, noting they maintained a close relationship as children.
During cross-examination by Hayes-Ellis, April Richardson was asked if she understood her brother had taken someone’s life.
As her voice occasionally broke due to being emotional, she said she did understand.
“My brother, to my knowledge, did not mean to do what he did,” she said.
Kenneth Stokes, Michael Richardson’s cousin, testified that as a child, Michael Richardson kept to himself a lot.
“We would be playing football, and he would go off to himself. He was distant,” Stokes said.
Rex Stokes, Michael Richardson’s uncle, said he helped Michael Richardson get a job as a mechanic at a truck stop, but Michael Richardson was not able to hold the job very long.
“He was there four to five weeks. He would try, but sometimes, he would get confused about how to do something even after you showed him before,” he said.
Lillian Stokes, Richardson’s grandmother, testified that Michael could be aggravating at times.
“He once took some cupcakes when I didn’t want him to,” she said.
In his testimony for the defense, Robert Williams, better known as “Uncle Bunky” said when he was working with the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Department, he was called to Michael Richardson’s school in Columbus to investigate a teacher’s report that Michael Richardson fell asleep during class. Williams said he could detect the scent of gasoline on Michael Richardson.
That was not the only time Williams dealt with Michael Richardson.
“I saw him one day walking the streets. He was cutting class, so I took him back to school,” Williams said.
Dr. Reeb McMichael, who works with the Mississippi State Hospital at Whitfield as a psychiatrist, on April 11, 2008, conducted a psychiatric evaluation of Richardson.
McMichael said he determined Richardson had psychiatric disorders not specified, as well as substance abuse.
“In my opinion, Mr. Richardson does not have major mental health disorders, but does have mental health problems,” he said.
During cross-examination by de Gruy, McMichael said Michael Richardson was prone to have emotional outbursts when he was not on medication.
Dr. Gilbert McVaugh, a forensic psychologist from Greenville, testified that a brain screening was performed on Richardson, and there was no indication of brain damage as his mother said in her testimony.
Michael Richardson also had been given an intelligence test, and scored 84, which indicated he was functioning below average, McVaugh said.
Allen Baswell was previously a reporter for The Dispatch.