Mitrice Richardson’s remains exhumed

Workers at the Inglewood Cemetery in Los Angles prepare to exhume the remains of Mitrice Richardson, as her family watches from afar. Julie Ellerton

The family of the young woman whose bones were found in Malibu Canyon last year after she went missing nearly a year earlier, requested that her remains be tested for further evidence.

By Julie Ellerton / Special to The Malibu Times

The remains of Mitrice Richardson, which were buried at the Inglewood Cemetery in Los Angeles, were exhumed Wednesday morning last week at approximately 8:35 am by the Los Angles County Coroner’s office. Assistant Chief Coroner Ed Winters was present.

The 24-year-old woman’s bones were found in a remote area of Malibu Canyon last year nearly a year after being released from the Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station where she was booked for not paying a restaurant bill in Malibu.

Her family had requested that Richardson’s remains be exhumed so they could be further examined, and analysis and sampling be done that was not performed when her remains were first found, her mother said.

Sheriff Lee Baca notified Richardson’s mother Latice Sutton in January that her formal request to have her daughter’s remains exhumed had been accepted.

The family hired an independent forensic pathologist to be present at the exhumation, “to observe, so that he could produce an independent report to me,” Sutton said in an interview last week Thursday.

On Friday, the material evidence found at the death scene, which includes Richardson’s jeans, bra and belt were sent to the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department’s crime lab for examination. This will be the first time this material evidence will be tested for any possible evidence to Richardson’s death, according to Sutton. These articles of clothing were not examined by the Sheriff’s crime lab or the coroner’s office prior to this.

“For whatever reason the clothing was never claimed by the Sheriff’s Department to be taken to the crime lab and tested for potential evidence that could lead to a potential suspect,” Sutton said. “That was crucial back in August 2010 and somebody dropped the ball.”

Richardson’s, shoes, shirt and panties have not been recovered.

The FBI in February declined involvement in the Richardson case.

On Wednesday, Richardson’s family watched from afar as two men from the Inglewood Cemetery dug for hours, shovel after shovel, until her casket was unearthed. It was a moment that made all present stand motionless.

“The amount of pain and devastation a mother can feel after losing her child tragically … it’s incredible, and at times unbearable at the same time,” Sutton said. “I’m finding out that there are different levels of despair. When you lose a loved one quickly, there’s a ripping that happens that you just can’t gain composure.”

Richardson was taken into custody for possession of marijuana in her car and defrauding an innkeeper on Sept. 16, 2009.

She disappeared on Sept. 17, 2009, after being released from the Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station at approximately 1 a.m. She was without transportation, a cell phone, or any type of identification.

After leaving the station, Richardson was briefly sighted on the lawn of a nearby residence, and then was never seen again.

Richardson’s remains were discovered on Aug. 9, 2010 in Malibu Canyon, nearly one year after she was reported missing.

Many people have said it was at best a poor decision to release Richardson. The jailer who processed Richardson’s release, told the Los Angeles Times she recommended to the young woman that she stay until the morning, but Richardson refused.

Her family, through TV, print and radio interviews had galvanized the public and local governmental and law enforcement officials to search for her. Several search and rescue teams were sent into Malibu’s canyons in the ensuing months, but her remains were not found until nearly a year later.

More controversy arose after Richardson’s bones were found in a ravine in Malibu Canyon in August last year. A Los Angeles County coroner’s official criticized Sheriff’s deputies for moving the bones without consent from the coroner’s office. A Sheriff’s spokesman said deputies moved the bones because it was getting dark and they feared animals might destroy them.

Questions about the thoroughness of the department’s handling of the case continued when Sutton claimed to have found a finger bone while visiting the site. A few months later, in February, authorities discovered eight more bones in the area, months after her body was found.

A lawsuit by the Richardson family against the county Sheriff’s Department for its handling of the case is currently pending.