Murder Mastermind Removed from Death Row

Her lawyer argued prosecutors improperly withheld evidence about comments made by their key witness from her original punishment hearing

Tuesday, Jan 17, 2012  |  Updated 10:09 PM CDT
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Murder Mastermind Removed from Death Row

Texas Dept. of Criminal Justice

Chelsea Richardson, 25, was condemned to death row for the slayings of Rick and Suzanna Wamsley, her boyfriend's parents, at their home in Mansfield in 2003.

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A woman removed from death row after her attorneys found prosecutors had withheld evidence at her trial, officially received a life sentence Tuesday.

Chelsea Richardson was officially sentenced in a hearing that was mostly a formality, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported.

Richardson, 27, was convicted of masterminding the slayings of her boyfriend's parents so he could inherit their $1.56 million estate. She was 19 at the time of the December 2003 killings.

Her appeal focused on what her attorney, Robert Ford, said was a prosecutor's failure to give Richardson's trial lawyers notes from a psychologist that suggested another woman masterminded the plot to kill Rick and Suzanna Wamsley of Mansfield, about 20 miles southeast of Fort Worth.

According to the notes, the other woman, Susana Toledano, told the psychologist she was "more guilty than either of them," referring to Richardson and her boyfriend, Andrew Wamsley, that she "did wrong" and "probably could have prevented" the killings.

Toledano -- a longtime friend of Richardson's who was the key witness in the prosecution case -- took a plea deal from prosecutors to avoid a possible death sentence and testified against Richardson and Wamsley, who also was convicted at trial. Wamsley and Toledano are both serving life prison terms.

Tarrant County prosecutors didn't dispute that the material from the psychologist who interviewed Toledano was withheld, but argued that the notes would not have changed the outcome of the jury's decision to send Richardson to death row.

Ford contended that the notes pertaining to the key witness in the prosecution case did affect the punishment phase of Richardson's trial.

Testimony showed the slaying of the couple at their home was at least the third attempt by the three to kill them. Rick Wamsley, 46, was shot in the head and the back, and stabbed 18 times. His wife, 45, also was fatally shot in the head, then stabbed 18 times.

Ford said he was reviewing the court transcript of Toledano's testimony at Richardson's trial and found that under prosecution questioning she talked about being interviewed by a psychologist. Notes from that interview, however, never were made available to Richardson's defense team. Ford then obtained the 11 pages of handwritten notes from the psychologist.

A judge from another county was appointed to hear the appeal and recommended a new punishment to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which acted on the case in November.

Tarrant County prosecutors agreed to not seek the death penalty if she pleaded guilty, meaning Richardson gets life and becomes eligible for parole after 40 years. She arrived on death row in 2005 and her time there will count toward her parole eligibility.

There are now only nine women on Texas Death Row.

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