A Utah woman who wrote a children’s book about coping with grief after her husband’s death, and was later accused of fatally poisoning him, appeared in court Monday for a hearing to determine whether she should remain detained or have an opportunity to post bail.
Kouri Richins, 33, is charged with murder and drug possession and listened intently as prosecutors questioned the lead detective investigating her husband’s death. As a rapt gallery made up of locals, including employees of Eric Richins’ construction company, sat behind her, Richins grabbed tissues and inhaled deeply as detective Jeff O’Driscoll testified about the drugs authorities believe were used to kill him. She kneeled her head and was crying when they talked about finding him “cold to the touch.”
Summit County Chief Prosecutor Patricia Cassell said she planned to depose multiple witnesses on Monday morning.
Prosecutors say in court documents that Richins slipped five times the lethal dose of fentanyl into a Moscow mule cocktail she made for her husband, Eric Richins, amid marital disputes and fights over a multimillion-dollar mansion she ultimately purchased as an investment.
The mother of three self-published an illustrated book about an angelic father watching over his sons.
The case became a true-crime fixation when charges were filed last month, prompting people to pore over the children’s book and scrutinize remarks she made while promoting it as a tool to help children grieve the loss of a loved one.
Prosecutors have painted a picture of a conniving woman who tried to kill her husband weeks earlier by lacing a Valentine’s Day sandwich with hydrocodone and repeatedly denied her involvement on the day of his death in March 2022, even telling police, “My husband is active. He doesn’t just die in his sleep. This is insane.”
In a motion calling for her release filed on Friday, Kouri Richins’ attorneys argued the evidence against her is circumstantial because police never seized fentanyl from the family home. They also called into question the credibility of the key witnesses expected to support the prosecutors’ request to keep her in custody.
The attorneys said prosecutors “simply accepted” the narrative from Eric Richins’ family that his wife had poisoned him “and worked backward in an effort to support it” by spending about 14 months investigating and finding no evidence to support their theory. In a court filing containing a letter filed on Monday, her attorneys also claim detectives detained and questioned Richins unlawfully while executing a search warrant on the family home about a month after her husband’s death.
The case also has shined a spotlight on Kamas, Utah, an agricultural town on the backside of Utah’s Wasatch Mountains near Park City, one of the American West’s preeminent destinations for skiing, hiking and outdoor recreation. The couple and their three sons lived in a new development in the town of Francis, roughly 50 miles (80 kilometers) east of Salt Lake City.
If the case goes to trial, it could hinge largely on an unidentified informant who prosecutors say sold Richins the drugs that medical examiners later found in her husband’s system.
Charging documents and warrants detail interviews in which the informant said she sold Richins hydrocodone and fentanyl in the weeks and months before her husband’s death. Prosecutors say the drug purchase timeline corresponds with Eric Richins’ death and their allegation that his wife laced the sandwich weeks prior.
After her husband survived the first alleged poisoning, Kouri Richins asked for stronger drugs, “some of the Michael Jackson stuff,” the dealer told investigators, according to prosecutors. When the pop star died of cardiac arrest in 2009, medical examiners found prescription drugs and powerful anesthetics in his system, not fentanyl.
Charging documents suggest the case likely will revolve around financial and marital disputes as possible motives. The couple had argued over whether to purchase an unfinished, 20,000-square-foot (1,860-square-meter) mansion nearby and discussed divorce prior to his death, court filings allege.
Prosecutors also say Kouri Richins made major changes to the family’s estate plans before her husband’s death, taking out life insurance policies on him with benefits totaling nearly $2 million.
They also allege Richins took out and spent a $250,000 home equity line of credit, withdrew $100,000 from her husband’s bank accounts, spent more than $30,000 on his credit cards and stole about $134,000 meant for taxes for his businesses.
Some of the allegations correspond to civil court filings submitted in different cases after Eric Richins’ death in which his blood relatives and widowed wife filed competing claims over how to split a masonry business with his former partner and whether Kouri Richins can benefit from a trust set aside for his next of kin.
Greg Skordas, an attorney and victims’ advocate working with Eric Richins’ relatives, said Richins’ three children are staying with a relative while their mother awaits trial. Katie Richins-Benson, who is Eric Richins’ sister and the trustee to his estate, has filed for guardianship.
By Sam Metz
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS