PARK CITY, Utah (Court TV) — A woman accused of poisoning her husband with fentanyl and trying to profit from his life insurance faced prosecutors in court for the first time since they accused her of witness tampering.
Kouri Richins is charged with murdering her husband, Eric, by putting a lethal dose of fentanyl in his cocktail. After his death, Richins wrote and self-published a children’s book about grief that she wrote for the three sons she shared with her late husband.
Richins was in court on Friday as prosecutors asked a judge to stop her from speaking to members of her family after finding what they allege was evidence of witness tampering in her cell. Richins denied the allegations in a phone call with her brother, saying what prosecutors referred to as a “Walk the Dog” letter was actually part of a “65-page novel” that she has been writing while behind bars.
Richins’ attorneys are fighting back in court and asked the judge to dismiss the charges against her, arguing prosecutorial misconduct. Richins’ attorneys said that the papers found in her cell were taken during an illegal search and have accused prosecutors of violating the gag order.
Skye Lazaro, one of Richins’ attorneys, said in court that prosecutors crossed the line by filing a motion that characterized Richins as guilty of witness tampering without filing additional charges or a criminal complaint.
While the judge argued that the letter itself may be introduced at trial, thus rendering pre-trial publicity of it moot, Lazaro argued that the state’s public filing tainted the jury pool: “The problem is that there is where the state has interpreted the letter in the way they want and has put out to the world and all the potential jurors that Kouri is lying.”
In response, Judge Richard Mrazik acknowledged the intense media attention the case has received, noting it’s even been seen overseas.
“This case was covered by the BBC. I don’t know that you’ll find a jurisdiction that is, certainly not in the state of Utah, that is going to be materially different than Summit County given the media saturation of this case.”
Lazaro said she does anticipate filing for a change of venue.
Brad Bloodworth, representing the prosecution, argued that all the documents in the case are public and that the defense has every right to rebut the evidence if they choose. Bloodworth did acknowledge that jury selection would be longer than normal and require a larger jury pool than normal, “but there are people in Summit County who are not following this case.”
Referencing Gwyneth Paltrow’s recent lawsuit, held in the Summit County civil court, Bloodworth argued that the court is well-equipped to find an impartial jury.
Judge Mrazik denied the defense’s request to dismiss the charges, saying “When viewed in isolation, these comments raise concern that they would cause undue prejudice by tainting the view of potential jurors … but when read in context and given how these comments are anchored to evidence in the record and motions made by the parties, these comments are within the bounds of professional conduct.”
However, the judge said that steps can be taken to mitigate potential harm on the jury pool going forward, which includes a careful and long voir dire of jurors.
Taking up the motion for a no-contact order between Richins and her mother and brother due to allegations of witness tampering, Mrazik said he was inclined to deny the motion, largely because the “cat’s out of the bag” and the prosecution was aware of what she was saying because they had both her calls and the letter.
In return, Bloodworth proposed an order where Richins would only be allowed to speak to her mother and brother in the presence of counsel.
Lazaro argued that the state was alleging a crime without affording Richins any due process, and argued that the existence of the letter doesn’t translate to witness tampering.
Mrazik denied the state’s motion for a no-contact order, saying that the “status quo is that defendants’ communications with everyone, except her lawyer, are monitored, and the court is in no position to make that easier for the state.”
The judge also heard arguments on how to approach handling an envelope full of papers that were found inside Richins’ cell to determine whether or not the papers contained privileged information as well as motions regarding Richins’ access to her late husband’s assets and the civil cases she is facing from his family.