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Lawyer Claims Misconduct, Wants Woman Off Texas Death Row

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Texas death row inmate Chelsea Richardson. (credit: Texas Dept. of Criminal Justice)

Texas death row inmate Chelsea Richardson. (credit: Texas Dept. of Criminal Justice)

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FORT WORTH (AP) – Lawyers for death row inmate Chelsea Richardson say a former prosecutor withheld evidence at her trial and have urged a judge to recommend a new punishment phase.

At her trial, prosecutors said Richardson masterminded the 2003 killing of her boyfriend’s parents, Rick and Suzanna Wamsley of Mansfield, in an alleged $1.5 million inheritance scheme. Their son, Andrew Wamsley, was convicted of capital murder. A friend, Susana Toledano, who prosecutors say did most of the shooting and stabbing, pleaded guilty to murder.

Wamsley and Toledano received life prison terms. Richardson, now 27, became one of 10 women on Texas’ death row.

Richardson’s appeals attorney Bob Ford filed a post-conviction writ of habeas corpus in 2007 alleging that Richardson was illegally convicted and raised nine points of error, including allegations that former prosecutor Mike Parrish failed to provide a psychologist’s notes to the defense team — documents that could have suggested Toledano was the mastermind.

The district attorney’s office agreed, marking the second time in three years that the office has agreed to change the outcome of a death penalty case prosecuted by Parrish, who retired in 2008, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported Thursday.

Parrish told the newspaper Wednesday that he has no problem with Richardson’s sentence being changed to a life term, but he denied withholding evidence or lying.

“I haven’t been untruthful about anything,” Parrish said.

He said he learned about the psychologist’s notes after the trial and that he would have turned them over to the defense if he had them at the time.

“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.”

Assistant District Attorney Chuck Mallin told the judge that the notes likely would not have changed the outcome of Richardson’s trial.

Ford, Mallin and another assistant district attorney, Steve Conder, submitted documents to state District Judge Steven Herod, 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.

If the appellate court agrees to the new punishment hearing, both sides then plan to agree that Richardson should get a life prison term.

“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.”

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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