Thursday, January 6, 2011

Mother persuades L.A. authorities to exhume daughter's remains

Los Angeles (CNN) -- After an emotional public appeal, the mother of a 24-year-old California woman whose remains were found in Malibu Canyon last summer has persuaded Los Angeles County authorities to exhume the remains and involve the FBI crime lab in examining them and the daughter's clothing.

The exhumation and the FBI participation marked a victory in Latice Sutton's long struggle to get authorities to investigate her daughter's mysterious disappearance as a murder, Sutton said Wednesday.

"If you think about it, it's just been me, my sister-in-law and my friend, and we have been going up against the entire bureaucracy," said Sutton, 46, of La Verne, California.

Her daughter, Mitrice Richardson, disappeared in September 2009 after she left the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Lost Hills/Malibu station, where she had been detained for allegedly being unable to pay $89.51 for food and drink at a Malibu restaurant.

"It's been my struggle since my daughter's remains were recovered" in August 2010, Sutton said. "It has been my absolute determination to find out who was involved in my daughter's murder.

"I always felt that my daughter was murdered," Sutton continued, becoming choked up. "I'm sorry I'm starting to get emotional. I'm just elated we're moving forward."

Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca in August said there was "no indication of a homicide."

On Wednesday, he said he hasn't changed his position, but he agreed to the exhumation and the FBI involvement after meeting with Richardson last month.

"No, I haven't changed my mind, but I can't rule it out at the same time," Baca said about whether the case is a homicide. "I think it's time to send it to the FBI so that they can review it in a way that doesn't involve the Sheriff's Office and the Coroner's Office. There have been so many concerns on whether we can get to the bottom of how and why Mitrice Richardson died."

At one point in the controversy over her death, Richardson's father, Michael Richard, blamed the Sheriff's Office for releasing his daughter without any assistance, even though she had mental-health issues and was in a manic state.

"Mel Gibson gets driven to his car and Charlie Sheen gets taken to his house," the father said in August, referring to practices by law officers in Malibu.

Richardson's skeletal and mummified remains were found about eight miles from the sheriff's station, in the Monte Nido section of the Santa Monica Mountains, which bisect Los Angeles, Latice Sutton said.

Baca said the planned exhumation and FBI involvement weren't an acknowledgement of any shortcomings or lapses in his investigation.

"The family and I have agreed to just move it over to the FBI and let another agency have a look at the evidence and give us their best opinion," Baca said.

Baca pointed out that he assigned homicide detectives to investigate the remains last summer.

"We're both of the same state of mind," Baca said of Sutton's concerns about her daughter. "The mother and I have been in communication since the beginning on this. I believe her instincts on this have been remarkably strong."

Richardson's death "could be through the natural causes of a rural and almost impassable canyon, or it could be by the hands of another. Until we've had a full forensic review, we can't close the door on any possibilities," Baca said.

Last month, Sutton and a forensic anthropologist with the Los Angeles-based nonprofit Missing Persons Identification Resource Center, Clea Koff, held a news conference criticizing how authorities overlooked or failed to fully investigate Richardson's remains, clothing and other evidence.

Sutton said her daughter's mummified arm was bent in a way that would have made it difficult for floodwater or other acts of nature to wash clothing off the body.

Richardson's bra was also found unsnapped and her pants unzipped several hundred feet away from the remains, raising the question of what or who removed them, Sutton said. The underwear, shoes and shirt were not recovered, she said.

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