Man on trial for alleged attempted murder of deputy
Did Robert A. Richards try to kill a sheriff’s deputy who tackled him in a Penn Valley parking lot, or was it just a drunken reaction after a foot chase and scuffle?
Jurors in Richards’ attempted murder case began hearing evidence on those scenarios Tuesday in Nevada County Superior Court.
The 39-year-old Penn Valley man is accused of stabbing Deputy James Bennett in the neck on June 17, 2001, outside the Daybreak Cafe on Penn Valley Drive.
Bennett “came within fractions of an inch of dying or being permanently paralyzed,” Assistant District Attorney Ron Wolfson said in his opening statement.
Court-appointed defense lawyer Glenn Kottcamp called the injury a “flesh wound” that Bennett didn’t immediately know about, and that didn’t require stitches.
“Yeah, what could’ve been, could’ve been. But what could’ve been, wasn’t,” Kottcamp said.
Richards and Bennett knew each other from a prior case in which Richards failed to report to jail after sentencing.
On the night of the encounter, Bennett was on patrol about 11 p.m. when he saw a man seated in front of the closed cafe. What happened next, according to Wolfson:
When asked his name, Richards replied “Don Johnson.” Asked for identification, Richards rummaged though his pickup, which had a handgun in the glove compartment.
Bennett didn’t immediately remember Richards’ full name, but when he did, he radioed dispatchers to check for arrest warrants.
Hearing this, Richards ran and Bennett tackled him 80 yards away. The two wrestled, and Bennett struggled to keep Richards’ left hand away from his gun holster.
Richards broke free and ran into a dark area, where he told Bennett he had a gun. Bennett saw that he didn’t, then pepper-sprayed and handcuffed Richards.
Other deputies responded. One informed Bennett that he had been stabbed in the back of his neck, and another found a folding knife with a 2-inch blade nearby.
Kottcamp didn’t dispute most of the details. But he painted Richards as a drunken figure who urinated on himself and passed out after his arrest, an indication he didn’t try to kill Bennett.
The lawyers also disagreed on the origin of drawings found in Richards’ cell in the Wayne Brown Correctional Facility.
One drawing depicts a knife under the title, “Pig Stickers Club Application.” Richards was nicknamed “Pig Sticker” by other inmates, according to Kottcamp. “I realize that’s pretty doggone offensive, but that’s not a name that was adopted by Mr. Richards himself,” he said.
Kottcamp said a former cellmate of Richards drafted the fake application form, but Wolfson told jurors that a handwriting expert claims the handwriting bears similarities to samples of Richards’ writing.
Along with attempted murder, Richards is charged with assault with a deadly weapon on an officer, resisting arrest and firearm possession by a felon. The trial is expected to last about three days.
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