BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — The first-degree murder conviction of a man who strangled a woman in 2017 has been reversed after an appellate ruling that found the trial court erred in allowing the prosecutor to present evidence of prior acts of abuse.
The 5th District Court of Appeal said in its ruling Eldrick Richmond can either be retried for first-degree murder or resentenced to second-degree murder.
Prosecutors said they haven’t decided whether to retry Richmond.
“We are in the process of notifying and consulting the victim’s family to discuss the options going forward, but have not made a determination about the election at this early stage,” Kern County District Attorney’s office spokesman Joseph Kinzel said.
Richmond, 56, had been serving a sentence of 55 years to life in prison. The sentence was composed of two 25-years-to-life terms — one for the murder conviction, the second added because Richmond has a prior strike conviction — plus five years.
If resentenced for second-degree murder, Richmond will be given 35 years to life, Kinzel said.
A jury found Richmond guilty of beating and strangling Delenna Rebecca Ruiz at the Town and Country Motel in East Bakersfield. Richmond told police Ruiz attacked him, and that he hit her and grabbed her by the neck to defend himself after stopping her from going through his property.
Prosecutors, however, said the evidence showed Ruiz suffered head trauma and was strangled.
At trial, the judge permitted the prosecutor to present evidence Richmond had previously abused three women whom he dated. The prosecutor argued the evidence was admissible to prove intent to kill, and show that Ruiz’s death wasn’t an accident.
The appellate court found otherwise, determining the evidence wasn’t necessary and that the prior incidents of abuse bore little similarity to the charges Richmond faced.
“The incidents here were not similar enough to prove intent to kill,” the appellate court said in its ruling. “The most obvious dissimilarity is that Richmond did not kill, let alone attempt to kill, the women in the prior incidents.”
It found the judge was in error in allowing the evidence and instructing the jury on it.
“The error was not harmless,” the appellate court said. “Intent to kill is necessary to prove first-degree premeditated murder.”
If that evidence had not been presented, according to the court’s ruling, it’s possible that at least one juror could have doubted the killing was premeditated and deliberate.
But the appellate court found the error was not prejudicial to a conviction on second-degree murder as that crime does not require premeditation, but involves committing an inherently dangerous act that the perpetrator knows can result in death.
“There is no disputing Richmond’s actions were dangerous to life,” the ruling says. “There is no doubt he knew they were dangerous. There is only one reason to savagely beat and choke another person: To inflict life-endangering injury.”