In 2016, the United States Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional for people to be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole as minors. They declared that those that were sentenced as such, should be afforded an opportunity to recentencing under certain conditions. Namely, they must take responsibility for their crimes and show rehabilitation is possible for them.
One such case is that of Tommy Richards who, in 1987 was sentenced to life without parole in the rape and murder of then ten year old Shimika Hicks. He was 17 at the time.
“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," he said in a hearing on September 12th before Berrien County Trial Court Judge Angela Pasula, addressing Shimika's two sisters and mother that were present at the hearing.
“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.”
Shimika's mother, Fiona Byndum, testified in opposition of 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.”
Taylor said that Richards' apology was not sincere and was only a ploy to get 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."
According to the autopsy results, Shimika was suffocated shortly after eating dinner on April 20, 1987. The medical examination also revealed that her front teeth had been knocked loose, and that she had a tear in her vaginal wall indicating rape. Her body was found on May 4th, inside plastic bags in an abandoned lot next to the residence where she had last been seen with her babysitters.
The investigation quickly led to Richards who initially denied being involved with her death but said that he found her body and hid it. Evidently Richards later admitted in another statement that she died when he was sexually assaulting her. He also admitted in that statement to concealing her body in plastic bags after she died. He was found guilty of first degree murder.
His attorney, Sofia Nelson, said Richards' family environment growing up was “horrific and traumatic.” She said that “he grew up learning violence, cruelty and criminality,” and “what he did was wrong and he knew it, but not the way he knows it today. He was impulsive and selfish.”
Judge Pasula is expected to announce a sentencing decision in November.