Prosecutors: Letter confiscated in search of Kouri Richins' cell is potential 'witness tampering'
Prosecutors say Kouri Richins is trying to get her mother and brother to lie for her. That's why they are asking the judge to prevent her from talking to them. The defense wants the state held in contempt of court.
The Summit County Attorney's Office filed a motion Sept. 15 asking the court to forbid Kouri Richins from communicating with her mother and brother. Prosecutors say she is trying to get them to lie on her behalf.
Kouri is accused of fatally poisoning her husband Eric Richins with fentanyl. She would go on to write a children’s book about grieving his death.
Now, Summit County prosecutors are considering adding witness tampering. Kouri's attorneys say the state can't prove it, and what evidence they do have was obtained through a "potentially illegal" search.
Prosecutors: Letter is evidence of witness tampering
In the motion, prosecutors say deputies searched Kouri’s cell Sept. 14 and found a six-page letter hidden in a book. Kouri appeared to have written it to her mother, Lisa Darden, although prosecutors aren’t sure if Lisa ever read it.
The first three pages of the letter contain instructions for Lisa to pass along to Kouri’s brother, Ronney Darden.
“Reword this however he needs to, to make the point,” Kouri wrote. “Just include it all.”
Kouri writes in the letter to get Ronney to tell defense attorney Skye Lazaro that Eric purchased pills and fentanyl in Mexico. She says Lazaro has a private investigator looking into whether Eric purchased drugs at a ranch south of the border.
Kouri wanted Ronney to say Eric made her carry drugs he purchased when they traveled, so she would get in trouble and not him. In the letter, she wrote Ronney has text messages from Eric about "getting high."
She tells Lisa to relay the instructions to her brother in person because she’s worried her mother's house and phone are bugged.
“Tell him I need him to do this,” Kouri wrote. “Bring me home and we will get those damn b- - - - - -.”
Ronney told KPCW he knew Eric purchased weed frequently, but he said he did not know about the letter found in his sister’s jail cell.
“There's no reason to testify falsely—[Kouri] didn't do anything,” he said.
Kouri goes on to tell her mother to find photos of the daughters of Eric’s sister Katie and mail them anonymously to different media outlets.
She mentions four of her friends are to be interviewed on Good Morning America, coordinated by Lazaro. Kouri wanted them to talk about Eric’s use of pills and paint his sisters as jealous of her.
“This comes down to jealousy, money, and Eric’s partying that they don’t want to acknowledge and sadly an accidental overdose,” Kouri wrote.
The motion prosecutors filed Friday includes allegations about a second letter too. They say Kouri had a video call with Lisa Sept. 13, during which she held up a separate letter for her mom to read.
Lisa told KPCW a girl had written the letter to Kouri, and she just wanted her mom to see it. Deputies never found the letter.
“There is a strong inference that the September 13, 2023 letter was destroyed or flushed,” prosecutors wrote.
Releasing the letter taints the jury pool, defense says
The night of Sept. 15, Lazaro filed a response, accusing prosecutors of violating the same gag order they asked the court to impose. The defense attorney objected to the state filing the Sept. 14 letter on the public case docket.
"This filing was the logical equivalent of sending directly to the media or posting it online," the defense wrote.
The defense said the letter was inside of an envelope marked "Skye Lazaro (Attorney privilege)" and searching that envelope was "potentially illegal."
Lazaro disputed the allegations of witness tampering, saying Lisa never received the letter and there's no evidence the other letter was destroyed, or even had anything illegal written on it in the first place.
Instead, she claims prosecutors made the letter public to influence public opinion.
She said the state has repeatedly disregarded Kouri's privacy by filing documents publicly with her social security number and other sensitive information.
The defense motioned for the court to enforce the partial gag order, which instructed attorneys in the case to abide by the rules of professional conduct.
Lazaro said she would like the state held in contempt of court and for Third District Court Judge Richard Mrazik to impose sanctions. That may include striking the letter found in Kouri's jail cell from the docket or making it private.
Kouri hospitalized, subsequent subpoenas
Prior to the search on Tuesday, Sept. 12, Kouri was taken to the Park City Medical Center temporarily. The reason for her visit or diagnosis are not yet clear.
Lazaro told KPCW Kouri appeared to be doing well, “medically speaking,” on Sept. 15.
Her brother Ronney alleges the Summit County Jail messed up her medication, causing her to collapse.
Prosecutors subpoenaed the medical records from Kouri's visit Friday. Shortly afterward, the defense subpoenaed surveillance footage of any areas of the Summit County Jail where medication is distributed, as well as footage of Kouri’s cell, from Sept. 12 to Sept. 14.
The search of her cell occurred Sept. 14, at which point Kouri had returned to the Summit County Jail.
After receiving the results of the subpoenas, the defense will have a chance to file a direct response to the motion for a no-contact order, and the prosecution will have a chance to respond to the response.
Kouri’s next day in court will be Nov. 3, when the court could arrange a preliminary hearing.