Jury sentences man to death for killing woman, grandson

Thomas Richardson, a convicted rapist, robber and now murderer, received the death penalty for his latest crimes.

A Clark County jury took less than an hour Wednesday to decide the fate of the California man who beat to death a 91-year-old cancer survivor and her grandson with a claw hammer.

The same jury Friday found the 42-year-old guilty of the two murders and other felonies.

As the jury’s decision was read aloud in the Regional Justice Center courtroom, Richardson stared straight ahead toward Judge Michelle Leavitt and avoided eye contact with the jury. He remained stoic as the court clerk announced he was sentenced to death twice, once for each murder.

Authorities said Richardson came to Las Vegas over the 2005 Labor Day weekend with his girlfriend’s teenage son, Robert Denhart, with a plan to rob and kill Steven Folker, 43. Folker was staying with his grandmother, Estelle Feldman.

The robbery netted the two men about $400.

Denhart in July pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and robbery with use of a deadly weapon.

He testified against Richardson, and in exchange, prosecutors will recommend that Denhart receive a sentence of 24 to 80 years in prison.

Marcia LaFrance, whose son and mother were the victims, said that “absolutely” justice was done by the jury.

“I don’t know if there is ever going to be any closure to this,” LaFrance said. “But I know in my heart that these two degenerates will never, ever get out and do something like this to anyone again in their lives. They don’t deserve to breathe the air.”

LaFrance thanked the prosecutors, investigators, victim advocates and especially the jurors.

“I cannot thank the jury enough for the diligence that they have done,” she said. “It’s got to have been horrendous for them. It’s not easy to look at those pictures and hear all of the horrible mess that went on.”

The trial was marked by graphic images and descriptions of the victims’ wounds, which included multiple strikes from a hammer, knife cuts to the victims’ heads and strangulation.

The jury learned during the penalty phase about other crimes Richardson was convicted of committing, including the 1992 rape of a woman in San Antonio and the robbery of a California Kmart with Denhart in 2005.

Prosecutor Pamela Weckerly told the jury in her closing argument that if Richardson were to be given a sentence of life in prison, he would not feel remorse for what he had done.

“This is someone incapable of feeling guilty,” she said. “He is not going to feel bad about anything he has done.”

During the trial, prosecutors presented circumstantial evidence putting Richardson and Folker together, specifically through surveillance video taken at a Las Vegas Taco Bell the same day investigators think the victims were murdered.

There was not much direct evidence linking Richardson to the crime scene.

Detectives testified that a hat Richardson was wearing in the surveillance video was photographed at the crime scene. The hat was destroyed by a crime scene cleaning company.

Richardson’s attorney, Special Public Defender David Schieck, said the lack of independent evidence supporting Denhart’s testimony will be one of the issues brought up on appeal.

The Nevada Supreme Court has overturned jury verdicts because there wasn’t “sufficient independent corroboration of the accomplice’s testimony,” Schieck said.

District Attorney David Roger said the appeal process for death penalty cases can take 10 years or more.

The last person sentenced to death by a Clark County jury was Frederick Mendoza, who was convicted in November of murdering and sexually assaulting an elderly woman.

Contact reporter Francis McCabe at fmccabe@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-1039.

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