Richter Trial Day 2: Police officers testify about living conditions

Richter Trial Day 2: Police officers testify about living conditions
Fernando Richter (Source: Tucson News Now)
Fernando Richter (Source: Tucson News Now)
Sophia Richter (Source: Tucson News Now)
Sophia Richter (Source: Tucson News Now)

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - The trial of the couple accused of imprisoning and abusing three young sisters continued Tuesday with testimony from Tucson police officers and detectives.

Fernando and Sophia Richter are facing three counts of kidnapping, domestic violence and child abuse. Fernando Richter, the stepfather to the children, is also facing two counts of aggravated assault.

The officers testified about what they saw and smelled inside the couple's Tucson home the night the girls escaped in November 2013.

As usual, the Richters were brought in separately in shackles and did not sit next to each other.

Prosecutor Frances Kreamer Hope asked detective Michael Cuestas what he saw when he first encountered the girls.

"It appeared that they hadn't bathed in an extremely long time," Cuestas said. "Kind of a musty smell. Their clothes were disheveled.

Cuestas also testified about what Sophia Richter looked like that night.

"She had blood-shot, watery eyes and the odor of intoxicants."

When asked about Fernando Richter, Cuestas said. "He had blood-shot, watery eyes, smell of intoxicants coming from his person, slurred speech."

Detective Oscar Cuellar was one of the first people to search the sisters' bedrooms. He was asked by the prosecution what he saw in one of the girl's rooms.

"That room had a horrific smell of urine, throw up and vomit," Cuellar said. "First thing I did was open a window because the smell was so bad and while I was actually searching it I actually got a paper mask to actually conduct the search because the smell was just horrific."

In opening statements, the prosecution claimed the girls was fed the same "disgusting food" day after day. Hope said the Richters would make large batches of pasta and gave it to the girls to eat, even after it became rancid.

Cuellar testified about a large orange five-gallon bucket of macaroni or pasta in the Richters' kitchen.

Cuellar said it appeared to be full of pasta and a variety of meats and sausage. He said the food had a rancid, oily smell.

What's Happened

Opening statements were given by the prosecution and Fernando's defense attorney on Friday.

Three witnesses, all who lived by the Sophia and Fernando, also testified. They told jurors they did not know the couple had children.

Hope said the evidence will show the Richters held the girls captive, fed them only once a day, beat them with belts and plastic and metal spoons and sometimes forced them to use their closets as bathrooms.

Paul Skitzki, who is representing Fernando Richter, said the sisters were unhappy with Fernando's relationship with Sophia. Skitzki claimed the jurors won't see any evidence of abuse or beatings and that the defensive team would call witnesses to testify the girls were allowed to come and go as they pleased.

Leo Plowman, defense for Sophia Richter, chose to reserve his opening statement for a later date.

What's Next?

Three more officers are set to testify Wednesday morning followed by the victims, which concerns their great-grandmother Erma Ferris.

Ferris told Tucson News Now the sisters are still recovering from the traumatic events and is concerned that it will take them a few steps back if they take the stand.

Ferris said she will be at the trial along with other family members.


Court documents indicated the girls were monitored 24 hours per day by video surveillance, sometimes fed once a day, forced to drink bath water out of moldy plastic jugs and sometimes forced to use their closets as a bathroom. Authorities also said the Richters blasted loud music through the home.

The allegations came to light in November 2013 when two of the girls managed to escape the family's Tucson home. The girls said they escaped through a window when Fernando, their stepfather, tried to break down their bedroom door with a knife in his hand.

Investigators said the Richters, who have pleaded not guilty to all charges, moved to Tucson in August 2013 after living in Pinal County for several years.

While a majority of the alleged crimes happened at the family home in Pinal, the couple is being tried in Pima County because that is where the first charges were filed.

The Richters were also indicted by a Pinal Country grand jury on charges of child abuse and kidnapping in January 2014.

Fernando Richter's aggravated assault charges stem from shortly after his arrest in 2014. Authorities claim he attacked a Pima corrections officer.

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