FORT WORTH -- The state's highest criminal court on Wednesday overturned the death sentence for Chelsea Lee Richardson, condemned by a Tarrant County jury in 2005 for the deaths of her boyfriend's parents in Mansfield.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that the punishment phase of Richardson's trial was affected by misconduct by then-prosecutor Mike Parrish, who withheld evidence from the defense.
Richardson's attorney, Robert Ford, said a deal has been reached with the Tarrant County district attorney's office for Richardson, now 27, to receive a life sentence.
Because she is subject to the penal code that was in place in 2005 when she was convicted, she would be eligible for parole after serving 40 years.
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"I hope it sends the message that this kind of cheating won't be tolerated," Ford said. "It probably cost Tarrant County and the state courts in the millions [of dollars] when you consider the cost of all the trials, appeals, everything."
Tarrant County District Attorney Joe Shannon, who took office after Parrish retired in 2008, said the court's ruling affirms an agreement reached by both sides in June.
"As I have often stated, this office will not be a party to the infliction of death as a punishment when there is even an appearance of impropriety on the part of a prosecutor who formerly worked in this office," Shannon said in a written statement.
"If the death penalty is to be used, it must be obtained legally, fairly and honestly and without the hint of possible injustice."
During the appeals process, Parrish testified that he had received a private reprimand from the State Bar of Texas in another case, Ford said.
Richardson and her boyfriend, Andrew Wamsley, were convicted of capital murder in separate trials in the deaths of Rick and Suzanna Wamsley of Mansfield in December 2003. Authorities said Andrew Wamsley, Richardson and a friend, Susana Toledano, killed the couple so that Andrew Wamsley could inherit his parents' $1.56 million estate.
Rick Wamsley, 46, was shot in the head and back and stabbed 21 times. Suzanna Wamsley, 45, died from a gunshot wound to the head and was stabbed 18 times after she died.
Richardson was the first woman in Tarrant County to receive the death sentence. Andrew Wamsley got a life sentence.
Toledano -- who testified that she did most of the shooting and stabbing with coaching from Richardson -- struck a deal with prosecutors and testified against the others in exchange for a life sentence.
Wamsley and Richardson turned down prosecutors' plea offers for life sentences and took their chances with juries.
Ford has contended that Parrish's misconduct was failing to tell Richardson's attorneys, Warren St. John and Terry Barlow, about 11 pages of notes taken by a psychologist who interviewed Toledano at Parrish's request. Ford argued that some of Toledano's statements to the psychologist could have been used to lessen Richardson's culpability.
After a number of hearings over the years, the district attorney's office agreed with Ford that the notes could have been used to attack the state's theory that Richardson was the mastermind of the killings and should have been turned over.
Ford said Richardson's family has mixed feelings about the result.
"They wanted her to walk away completely free, and that just wasn't a possibility," he said. "I know that they're relieved she's going to move off Death Row."
This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.
Dianna Hunt, 817-390-7084