UPDATE: 6:20 p.m.
A Sumner County jury found Joan Richardson guilty of reckless homicide early Friday evening after about four hours of deliberation. Her sentencing hearing was set for June 1. She faces two to four years for killing her husband, David O. Richardson Sr.
Richardson was on trial for first-degree murder, for which she would have faced a sentence of up to life in prison.
A Sumner County jury was deliberating on Friday the fate of a Gallatin woman for the 2010 shooting death of her husband. Fifty-nine-year-old Joan Richardson was charged with first-degree murder in the death of her husband David. O. Richardson Sr.
During the prosecutor’s closing arguments Friday morning, the jury heard the 911 call Richardson made after she shot her husband. He can be heard in the background moaning in pain.
“Joan, Joan, why did you shoot me?” he said on the tape. “Call the doctor.”
During the call, Joan Richardson told the operator, “I was going to kill him. I was going to kill him, so that he won’t be mean to me any more. I’m so sorry David.”
The defense argued that Richardson, who was abused by her husband, was not in a culpable state of mind, meaning that she was not aware of what she was doing and could not be held responsible. If she had planned to kill her husband, she could have done a better job of planning it.
“She wouldn’t even be sitting here if she had that culpable state of mind,” said Richardson’s defense attorney, David Ridings. “She could have gotten away scot-free.”
The prosecution argued Richardson was aware of her actions.
“The proof is clear that Joan Richardson picked up that gun,” said Assistant District Attorney Tara Wyllie. “She picked up that gun with the intention to kill.”
Richardson takes the stand
Joan Richardson took the stand on Thursday. She testified that she did not mean to kill her husband and did not remember much about the incident.
“I don’t remember shooting him,” she said. “I just remember the sound of the gun. I remember the smell (of the gunpowder), and I remember I called 911.”
Richardson testified that she asked him several times for a divorce but he refused.
Lynne D. Zager, a psychologist hired by the defense to evaluate Richardson, said Richardson was in a dissociative state when she shot her husband, and was therefore not responsible for his death. Experts explained a dissociative state is a serious mental state in which a person loses touch with reality and has something commonly called an “out of body experience.”
Zager, who met with Richardson three times between March 2011 and February 2012, diagnosed Richardson with post-traumatic stress disorder, a psychological condition usually brought on by the stress of a traumatic event.
Zager said she could not pinpoint a specific traumatic event that would have caused PTSD but said that the abuse she endured from her husband, as well as previous abuse from her father, brother and a boyfriend growing up, was to blame.
Richardson was being treated for anxiety and depression since 1972 but had never been diagnosed with PTSD. Zager argued that she was not diagnosed with a mental illness because she never talked about the abuse she suffered in her marriage.
A couple of times during her testimony, Richardson addressed her husband’s sister, Susan Addison, who was sitting in the courtroom and said, “Susie, I’m so sorry.”
When she stepped down from the witness box, Richardson, who is out on a $1.5 million bond, walked over to Addison and hugged her.
The incident occurred on Dec. 16, 2010 at around 1:30 p.m. at their home on University Drive.
According to court testimony, Richardson had made her husband lunch that day, and he fell asleep in a recliner chair in the living room. She then went into their bedroom and grabbed a gun she had inherited from her father. She testified Thursday that she was feeling very lonely and very depressed. She pulled the hammer back on the gun. She said she initially thought about killing herself but instead went into the living room.
Zager said cocking the gun was a significant event. Even though the gun was Richardson’s, Zager said her husband never let her touch it. When she cocked the gun, she realized she didn’t know how to decock it and thought she would get into trouble. Zager argued Richardson was in a dissociative state and therefore had a diminished mental capacity to think rationally.
“Her capacity flickered when she pulled the hammer (of the gun) back,” she said.
Zager said Richardson’s agitated state stemmed from an incident a week before when David Richardson got upset over a pharmacy not getting his prescription order correct and assaulted his wife. He got angry at Richardson, threw the medicine bottle at her, grabbed her by the neck, choked her and then threw her against the dresser and around the room. She hit her head and passed out.
Richardson said that when she awoke, she had a headache and felt like she wanted to throw up. They both agreed that she might have a concussion. Her husband did an online search for advice instead of taking her to the hospital. Richardson ended up staying in bed three days.
Richardson also testified that her husband would hit her, once when she was pregnant, and called her names, such as “idiot” and “stupid.”
After she cocked the gun on that day, she went to the living room and shot her husband once in the abdomen.
PTSD vs. depression
To counter the defense’s main argument that Richardson suffered from PTSD, District Attorney L. Ray Whitley called Dr. Rokeya Farooque, a government psychiatrist who was asked to evaluate Richardson’s ability to stand trial.
Farooque had spoken every day to Richardson for 27 days and had concluded she was fit to stand trial, did not suffer from dissociative states and did not have PTSD, which she said is what some veterans suffer from after witnessing horrific acts of war. She did, however, diagnose Richardson with a moderate form of depression.
When asked what evidence she had to show that Richardson was aware of her actions, Farooque pointed to the fact that Richardson was able to run errands earlier that morning, and that, when they spoke, Richardson told her she shot her husband in the abdomen so he would survive the gunshot. These are not the reasonings of a person out of touch with reality, Farooque argued.
“She wanted him to get help,” Dr. Farooque said. “That’s why she didn’t point to the head or chest. That shows to me she was in touch with reality.”
David Richardson died at Vanderbilt University Medical Center during surgery the same day he was shot.
When asked why she didn’t think Richardson had PTSD, Farooque said she didn’t suffer from signature symptoms of the disorder, including flashbacks, emotional numbness and avoidance of situations that would remind her of the initial trauma.
“It’s lots of problems you have to have to get that PTSD diagnosis,” Farooque said. “I didn’t see or hear any flashback by her. I didn’t see any numbness. I didn’t see any symptoms of PTSD.”
The prosecution also pointed to a phone call Richardson made to her mother from jail, during which Richardson said, referring to the incident, “I thought about it, and I thought about it, and I shot him.”
Richardson faces a sentence of up to life in prison if convicted.