Did Kouri Richins — who this year released a children’s book about coping with her husband’s death — poison him with a lethal dose of fentanyl?
The case is being played out in Park City, Utah, where the mother of three was initially charged with first-degree aggravated murder. In the latest string of developments, prosecutors announced they will not seek the death penalty against her, downgrading the charge to a noncapital first-degree felony.
While the case has made national headlines, it is also a returning subject on Radio Law Talk, a nationally syndicated legal show hosted by California Personal Injury Attorney Frederick W. Penney. During a recent episode, Penney and his co-hosts discussed whether the defense may be able to poke enough holes in the prosecution’s case to create reasonable doubt. First of all, let’s consider what allegedly happened.
The Kouri Richins Case: Alleged Events
On March 4, 2022, at around 3 a.m., Kouri says she found her husband of nine years, Eric Richins, lifeless at the foot of their bed, a few hours after she served him a Moscow Mule cocktail. According to Kouri, who worked as a real estate agent, they had spent the night of March 3 celebrating a recent house sale of hers. After serving the drink to her husband, Kouri said she went to sleep with one of the children who was having a night terror. When she woke up and went back to the bedroom, she said she discovered her husband cold to the touch and began CPR.
“I pumped so damn hard, so hard, screaming at him to come back to life,” she allegedly texted a friend.
On March 7, 2023, she published a book for children about grief. Titled “Are You With Me?”, Kouri told a local TV station that her husband’s sudden death inspired her to write the book, drawing on her three young sons’ thoughts about losing their dad.
On May 8, 2023, Kouri was arrested as a suspect in the case, accused of murdering her husband by lacing his cocktail with five times the lethal dose of fentanyl.
Text Message Raises Questions
The prosecution read Kouri’s text message about performing CPR out loud during her detention hearing in June. Investigators say that although Kouri claims the phone was in her bedroom during the crucial time frame, records show the phone moved around, was locked and unlocked several times, and messages were sent and received (and later deleted).
Search History in Focus
Kouri’s search history is also central to the prosecution’s case. Among searches related to life insurance payments, fentanyl, and police investigations (she allegedly looked up the home addresses of the lead investigators), investigators found phrases such as, “If someone is poisoned what does it go down on the death certificate as” and “What is a lethal dose of fentanyl.”
Financial Troubles as Motive
Prosecutors have also presented a long list of actions that they say Kouri took to steal her husband’s money to cover up her own financial troubles. They claim, for instance, she forged his signature to get a $250,000 home equity line of credit, took out four life insurance policies on her husband between 2015 and 2017, and withdrew $100,000 from his bank accounts. Only months before the alleged murder, she is accused of trying, but failing, to make herself the sole beneficiary of his $2 million life insurance policy.
Allegations of Poisoning Attempts
Court documents also allege that Kouri may have attempted to poison her husband on multiple occasions. Investigators found evidence that she had purchased illicit fentanyl in the months leading up to his death. His death occurred six days after the most recent alleged drug delivery.
Unusual Estate Planning Choices
Adding to the case of trouble: An estate planner, who counseled the husband, said he requested “several highly unusual choices” in regard to his estate plan, such as not designating his wife as his health care agent should one be needed.
Drug Purchase Timing
The person who sold the fentanyl to Kouri testified the sale took place just before her husband’s death. Kouri paid a check to the drug dealer for cleaning the house; it was a substantial amount of money.
Behaviour After Husband’s Death
Kouri claimed to be too upset to plan for her husband’s funeral but bought a $2-million house right after his passing. Eric Richins had objected to her idea of purchasing and flipping the 10-acre property.
Kouri Richins’ defense, on the other hand, maintains, for example:
- There’s insufficient evidence to prove Kouri purchased fentanyl and disputes the notion that her financial troubles provided a motive for her husband’s murder. (“Being bad with money doesn’t make you a murderer”)
- There’s no concrete evidence identifying the source of the login used to attempt the change in the life insurance policy and asserts her right to withdraw money from joint accounts.
- There’s no proof that Kouri administered the lethal dose of fentanyl to her husband, highlighting the absence of fentanyl or illicit drugs seized from their home.
- There are discrepancies in witness testimony and law enforcement also offered incentives to one witness in exchange for desired information.
- An email from Kouri clarifies details about her husband’s affair and the state of their relationship, indicating that they had resolved their issues.
Radio Law Talk Weighs In
Penney and his co-hosts also suggested the defense may also choose to focus on certain strategies to create reasonable doubt, including:
Life Insurance Policies
The defense could argue that the life insurance policies, which were purchased several years before Eric’s death, may not have been a motive for Kouri Richins. Rather, they may contend that the deceased was aware of these policies and that the suicide clause, often in effect for a specific period after policy inception, no longer applied.
Shared Drug Use
The defense might present the theory that both Kouri and Eric were recreational users of fentanyl. They could argue that Eric may have taken a lethal dose on his own, unintentionally, challenging the idea that Kouri intentionally poisoned him.
Regarding Kouri’s internet searches, the defense may claim that these searches were driven by anxiety or concern about her situation, given the ongoing investigation. They may argue that these searches do not conclusively prove her guilt.
Hearsay and CPR Claims
The defense would likely challenge the admissibility of hearsay statements attributed to Eric, particularly those where he voiced suspicions about being poisoned. They may argue that these statements should not be admissible in court due to hearsay rules. Furthermore, they might contest the claim that Kouri was not the first to perform CPR, suggesting that EMS responders were responsible for CPR efforts.
Letters from Jail
In the latest twist, Kouri is accused of witness tampering after a search of her cell found a six-page letter, instructing her mother to tell Kouri’s brother and a few friends to say certain things to investigators and the media. The defense argues the letter was inside an envelope marked “Attorney Privilege.” Thus, they can make the case it was an illegal search.
The date for a preliminary hearing has yet to be set as of this writing.
Contact Penney & Associates
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