Kouri Richins defense raises concerns about her right to a fair trial

Prosecutors accused of trying the case in the court of public opinion in filings made by Skye Lazaro

Kouri Richins, left, a Utah mother of three who authorities say fatally poisoned her husband then wrote a children's book about grieving, stands with her attorney Skye Lazaro during a status hearing on Friday, Sept. 1.
Rick Bowmer/AP photo, pool

Defense attorneys for Kouri Richins have raised concerns the Kamas mother of three’s right to a fair trial is being infringed upon and alleged prosecutors are engaging in unprofessional conduct.

Skye Lazaro on Thursday afternoon filed a 22-page reply asserting the Summit County Attorney’s Office violated a gag order by filing court documents suggesting Kouri attempted to tamper with witnesses, a crime she had not been charged with as of Friday afternoon.

Lazaro appeared to imply this was an intentional tactic by the state to have a trial by media rather than in court, and she asked Third District Court Judge Richard Mrazik to impose sanctions.

“Far from an isolated lapse in judgment, the State’s conduct is part of a calculated pattern of using the Court’s public docket as a dumping ground for its favorite (and often inadmissible) evidence,” Lazaro’s filing stated. “The resulting prejudice to Ms. Richins is inescapable.” The document continued, “This characterization — which is now reflected in newspaper headlines across the country — implicates the legitimacy of Ms. Richins’ entire defense, including the credibility of any witness that may be called to testify on her behalf.”

The defense argued prosecutors titled the Sept. 15 exhibit “Walk the Dog Letter” to draw the attention of the global media, which is closely monitoring the case. The existing gag order prevents attorneys from making “an extrajudicial statement that the lawyer knows or reasonably should know will be disseminated by means of public communication and will have a substantial likelihood of materially prejudicing an adjudicative proceeding in this matter.” 

Lazaro suggested the attorneys provide notice to each other by sending proposed exhibits directly rather than “dumping evidence, which is plainly inadmissible, on the public docket.” She said the filing of the “Walk the Dog” letter also indicates it should be taken as “evidence of ‘witness tampering'” despite not charging Kouri with a related crime.

The court filing continues prosecutors engaged in unprofessional conduct by asserting they had personal knowledge of facts laid out within the letter such as stating the defense desired to create a link between Eric Richins getting drugs and pills from Mexico and claiming no such connection exists. Lazaro argued this questions the credibility of witnesses whose testimony may conflict with prosecutors’ statements.

“In sum, the State’s recent filings on the public docket violate the Gag Order and constitute willful interference with Ms. Richins’ right to a fair trial,” the defense filing stated.

The defense also suggested the “Walk the Dog” letter may have been recovered through a “potentially illegal” search and said the papers were found in an envelope addressed to Lazaro protected under attorney-client privilege.

However, the state argued that doesn’t automatically make the contents privileged information. Court filings said Summit County Sheriff’s Office deputies located the letter in an LSAT prep book.

Prosecutors maintain they must protect the proceedings from witness tampering, which is why the state also requested a no-contact order between Kouri and her mother, Lisa Darden, and brother, Ronald Darden. If granted, Kouri would not be allowed to communicate with them until after the trial.

Kouri has since claimed the letter was part of a fictional mystery book she is writing. The novel will be titled, “To hell and back,” according to a transcript of a Sept. 17 jail call. 

She told her mother there was a note on the front of the book that said, “The events and interactions and statements in this mystery fiction are a novel. They are not true or accurate references. They are solely written in regards to the fiction novel being written surrounding my current life events. They are in no way evidence to my criminal case and should not be used that way or against me.”

Kouri’s brother D.J. in a Friday morning interview with “Good Morning America” said he believes his sister is innocent. He also raised concerns about the treatment Kouri is receiving while in the Summit County Jail, alleging her medication had been mixed up at least six times. 

Kouri was transported to Park City Medical Center on Sept. 12 or 13, according to court filings. After she returned, Kouri was placed in observation until the afternoon of Sept. 14. Her cell was searched the same day.

Lazaro has subpoenaed the jail for audio and video surveillance of the area where medication is distributed, Kouri’s cell and subsequent searches of the room and attorney envelope as well as a list of all on-duty employees between Sept. 12 and 14.

It’s unclear when a ruling from Mrazik could come on the motions for a no-contact order or sanctions. However, it will likely be before Kouri is set to appear in court on Nov. 3 for a scheduling conference.

Kouri is charged with aggravated murder, a first-degree felony, and three second-degree felonies for possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance stemming from the death of her husband last March. Eric died after ingesting five times the lethal dose of fentanyl. Kouri is being held without bail.

Correction: This article has been updated to reflect which of Kouri’s brothers did a “Good Morning America” interview.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Park City and Summit County make the Park Record's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.