Death for a Killer

Plus: Off the List, Maybe

Richardson's defense noted that both witnesses made deals to lessen their own sentences in exchange for their testimony. "We put on four or five [former cellmates] who said that Chelsea never talked about her case," St. John said.

St. John also said that Celia Richardson and Chelsea's brother James testified that they didn't hear anyone enter or exit their home the night the murders occurred.

"Her mom's a 19-year employee of the U.S. government. Her brother's a hard worker," said St. John of the Richardson family. "They're not people that get in trouble."

Chelsea Richardson, above, was convicted on the testimony of Susana Toledano, below.
Chelsea Richardson, above, was convicted on the testimony of Susana Toledano, below.

Prosecuting attorney Parrish said that because of her age and sex, the Wamsley family did not expect the death penalty for Richardson but that the nature of the crime pushed the jury toward the punishment.

"They try to kill them at least twice before, and the motive was strictly greed and money," said Parrish in a phone interview. "Those two things are what the jury indicated to us really pushed them that way."

Parrish said that the Wamsley family was relieved by the outcome of the trial. Richardson and her family, however, are devastated, their lawyer said.

"She was beyond upset," said St. John of his client, who collapsed in her seat and cried when Judge Everett Young read the sentence aloud. "She's 21 years old, and she's never been arrested in her life, and now she's sentenced to death."

Andrew Wamsley is scheduled to go to trial for murder in late September. Hilario Cardenas faces a charge of conspiracy to commit capital murder. --Andrea Grimes

Off the List, Maybe
Go ahead, call the bill's passing a victory--in some ways it is. House Bill 867, which made it through the state Senate last week and is awaiting action by Governor Rick Perry, will toughen the sex offender registry while allowing certain low-risk sex offenders to ask a judge to take them off it. But there's a lot the bill won't do and much confusion over what it will.

Let's start with what it won't do. It won't allow guys like Frank Rodriguez and Mike Brandhuber the option to deregister (see "Jailbait," May 26). Their crimes were too heinous, according to the bill. Their crimes were "sexual assault of a minor"--the "minor" in both cases their girlfriends, and the "sexual assault" an act of consensual sex, consented to by the girls' parents, in fact.

But none of that mattered in court. So Rodriguez and Brandhuber pleaded guilty and must now register for life as sex offenders.

It's unfair, says Marsha McLane, policy director for state Representative Ray Allen, who wrote HB 867, but if Rodriguez and Brandhuber want to deregister, "they're going to have to work over the federal guidelines," McLane says.

The federal guidelines are the Jacob Wetterling Act, which gives states grant money in exchange for stringent sex offender laws. Texas' sex offender laws exceed that of the Wetterling Act, and loosening standards for guys like Rodriguez could still, in theory, mean complying with the federal law, but there's no legislator in Austin willing to take that chance. Texas, after all, could stand to lose $3.2 million a year in Wetterling money.

So if not Rodriguez and Brandhuber, who, according to the bill, can petition a court to take him- or herself off the sex offender registry? "It's depending on the charge and depending on the Wetterling Act," McLane says. Beyond that, she couldn't provide details.

Neither could state Senator Florence Shapiro, except to say the person "has to be defined as low-risk." The Plano Republican wrote the 1995 and 1997 "Ashley's Laws," which made Texas' sex offender registry among the toughest in the nation. Last week, she carried HB 867 in the Senate, curbing some of the standards she made law 10 years ago. There are certain categories of sexual offenses, she says, "that if someone was to actually look at the heinous doesn't reach the level of the sexual predator."

Achieving a "low-risk" status now means subjecting oneself to a battery of tests overseen by the Council on Sex Offender Treatment. Then there's the "preponderance" of evidence the bill says a sex offender treatment provider must give the court, assuring the judge the sex offender poses no risk to the public.

Allison Taylor, the executive director of the Council on Sex Offender Treatment, says finally, tax dollars will go where they're needed. "Five to 10 percent [of sex offenders] are predatory in nature," she says. --Paul Kix

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