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Berrien County man could be paroled after raping, killing 10-year-old girl

Posted: 10:25 AM, Sep 15, 2019
Updated: 2019-09-15 10:26:06-04

ST. JOSEPH, Mich. (AP) — A judge in southwestern Michigan is expected to decide in November whether a man convicted of murder more than 30 years ago should get a chance at parole because he was 17 at the time of the killing.

Tommy Richards, 49, raped and killed 10-year-old Shimika Hicks in Berrien County in 1987. He then placed her body in garbage bags and dumped it in an abandoned harbor lot. An autopsy ruled Shimika died of suffocation. Richards was sentenced to life in prison without parole, the Herald Palladium  reported .

Now Richards has a chance to seek resentencing after a 2016 U.S. Supreme Court decision ruled that inmates who were handed life without parole when they were juveniles can be resentenced. Inmates must accept responsibility for their crimes and be capable of rehabilitation.

Richards expressed remorse for his crime during Thursday’s hearing before Berrien County Trial Court Judge Angela Pasula. He addressed Shimika’s sisters and two cousins.

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry for the pain I put you through. I am deeply sorry. There are no excuses for what I did. … I’m still horrified, but I owe Shimika’s family the truth.

“During oral sex I held her head down while she struggled and collapsed,” he said. “I wrapped her head in a plastic bag. I put her body in a bag and placed her in an abandoned lot. She did not deserve to be killed and abandoned. I can’t imagine how scared she was.”

Meanwhile, Shimika’s mother, Fiona Byndum, testified against Richards’ release.

“I want you to do whatever you have to do to keep him in jail,” she told Jeffrey Taylor, chief trial attorney for the Berrien County Prosecutor’s Office. “Don’t let him out. Throw away the key.”

Thursday would’ve been Shimika’s 43rd birthday.

Richards’ defense attorney Sofia Nelson said Richards’ home and family environment were “horrific and traumatic.”

“He grew up learning violence, cruelty and criminality,” Nelson said. “What he did was wrong and he knew it, but not the way he knows it today. He was impulsive and selfish.”

She added the evidence of his ability to change is “overwhelming.”

Taylor pushed back saying Richards’s statement wasn’t “sincere” because he only chose to tell the truth when he learned he might have a chance to be released.

“To be quite honest, it’s not sincere,” Taylor said. “He doesn’t mention that her teeth were knocked loose, and that she had a vaginal tear, and that when her body was found her clothes were torn and up around her navel.

“This is a strategy to get out. It’s not sincere.”

Pasula will announce the sentencing decision in November.