Prosecutors seek gag order in Kamas murder case; defense wants woman in street clothes

Jun 2, 2023, 12:29 PM | Updated: 12:32 pm

The judge in the case of Kouri Richens, who is charged with killing her husband with a fatal dose o...

The judge in the case of Kouri Richens, who is charged with killing her husband with a fatal dose of fentanyl, is considering a number of motions, including a request from Summit County prosecutors for a gag order. (Kristin Murphy/Deseret News)

(Kristin Murphy/Deseret News)

PARK CITY, Utah — Attorneys for a Kamas woman accused of secretly administering a fatal dose of fentanyl to her husband and then later writing a children’s book aimed at helping families dealing with the sudden loss of a loved one are asking a judge to issue a gag order similar to the one in Idaho for the case involving four murdered college students.

A motion hearing is scheduled for Friday afternoon for Kouri Darden Richins in 3rd District Court.

Richins is charged with aggravated murder, a first-degree felony, and three counts of drug possession with intent to distribute, a second-degree felony, in the March 4, 2022, death of her husband, 39-year-old Eric Richins.

Richins died unexpectedly at his home. But a toxicology report from the state medical examiner determined that he “died from an overdose of fentanyl” that was “approximately five times the lethal dosage,” according to charging documents, even though Richins was not a known drug user.

As police investigated the case, they learned of fentanyl purchases Kouri Richins had made from a woman convicted of dealing drugs in the past; that Eric Richins had previously accused his wife of trying to poison him by putting something in his drink; and that Kouri Richins took out almost $2 million in life insurance policies on her husband before his death without his knowledge, according to court documents.

Richins was arrested more than a year after her husband’s death.

Attorneys for both sides have filed a number of motions since charges were filed against her. On May 17, a motion from prosecutors to have subpoenas in the case sealed was denied.

This week, several additional motions have been filed.

On Tuesday, Judge Richard E. Mrazik agreed with Summit County prosecutors to seal two search warrants served by police during their investigation — warrants that had already become public.

“Due to the heavy national and international publicity surrounding this case and pending a full and complete hearing that includes defense counsel,” the warrants were ordered to be sealed “pending further order of the court,” according to court documents.

The suspect, Kouri Richins, posing at a KPCW banner. (Courtesy: KPCW)

One warrant discussses information Eric Richins’ family provided investigators about their suspicions immediately following his death as well as information about Kouri Richins’ relationship with an acquaintance who allegedly provided her with drugs.

The second warrant goes into additional detail about who Richins is accused of purchasing the drugs from as well as information about associates of that person. The warrant talks about a recorded phone conversation from the Utah State Prison that investigators listened to, as well as a warrant being served on the electronic devices of one of Richins’ relatives to determine whether anyone else was involved in the planning of Eric Richins’ death.

On Wednesday, Summit County prosecutors filed a motion for a gag order in the case “nearly identical to the one issued this year in State v. Bryan C. Kohberger” in Idaho.

Bryan Kohberger, 28, is accused of stabbing Madison Mogen, Kaylee Goncalves, Xana Kernodle and Ethan Chapin to death on Nov. 13, 2022 in their rental home in Moscow, Idaho, across the street from the University of Idaho campus. The judge in the case has issued a wide-ranging gag order which is being challenged by a coalition of 30 news organizations. The Idaho Supreme Court denied the media’s request, saying the group should have first made the request to a lower court. The justices did not weigh in, however, on whether the gag order violates First Amendment rights. The media coalition is now challenging the gag order again, but in a lower court.

According to the motion filed in the Richins’ case, the state believes a similar gag order is needed here “in response to the anticipated and overwhelming media interest in this newly-filed case.”

In addition to already being contacted by media organizations from around the world, including documentary filmmakers, prosecutors say nonlocal media outlets “have camped out in the public waiting area in the Summit County Attorney’s Office, tried to get inside the jail to speak to the defendant, contacted jail and sheriff’s office staff asking absurd questions such as whether or not the defendant is eating her food, contacted the Summit County sheriff’s search and rescue volunteers asking them for information and statements, contacted at least one key witness in the case asking them to give statements, wooed the victim family’s private investigator with promises of a ‘handsome actor’ playing them in the upcoming production, and approached one the court clerks at a gas station asking her for information,” the motion states.

Prosecutors say two of Kouri Richins’ calls made from jail reveal that “she has been communicating with a documentary filmmaker, directly and through a friend.”

Eric Richins (Family photo)

Then on Thursday, defense attorneys filed a motion asking that Richins be allowed “to appear at all in-court proceedings in civilian clothes instead of a prison uniform and without restraint by any means, including shackles.”

In addition, the defense is asking that once the trial begins, that measures be taken to make sure jurors never see Richins in restraints either in or outside the courtroom, and that should their client be found guilty, that the same rules continue to apply during a sentencing hearing.

“Due to the nature of the charges in this case and the publicity the case has generated, media coverage of the accused dressed in prison garb creates a great potential for harm,” the defense argues in its motion. “Ms. Richins contends that the death penalty’s unique nature heightens her right to be free from these impairments.”

Prosecutors have not said whether they’ll seek the death penalty if Richins is convicted.

A hearing on whether Richins can be released from jail pending trial is scheduled for June 12.

This story will be updated.

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Prosecutors seek gag order in Kamas murder case; defense wants woman in street clothes