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Witnesses: Juanita Richardson planned divorce

March 26, 2008
By JOHN PEPIN, Journal Munising Bureau
MANISTIQUE — Witnesses testified Tuesday that Juanita Richardson had plans to divorce her husband as soon as her youngest child graduated from high school, which occurred in June 2006 about three weeks before she died at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.

Diane Bazuin testified that Juanita Richardson confided her divorce plans to her in August 2004 while the two were on a college orientation trip for their daughters.

Bazuin said Juanita Richardson complained about her husband having many affairs, said she was very unhappy in their marriage and would “divorce him when their last child got out of school.”

“She was excited. She had a plan,” Bazuin said. “She seemed to have been thinking about this for quite some time.”

The testimony came during the 14th day of the murder trial for Thomas David Richardson, who is accused of killing his wife by causing her fall from a 140-foot cliff along the Lake Superior shoreline.

Richardson’s defense attorneys say Juanita Richardson’s death was a terrible accident and their client did not kill his wife.

Kathy Koetje was a friend of Juanita Richardson’s who testified she talked with Juanita when the Richardsons had separated in 2000.

At that time, Juanita was upset with the situation and didn’t know what she should do, Koetje said. The couple reconciled.

Koetje said nine months before Juanita Richardson was killed, she came into the Subway restaurant Koetje owned and operated. Though Koetje said she knew Juanita as someone who always smiled, on this visit she “hung her head.”

When asked what was wrong, Juanita replied that she couldn’t talk about it.

A couple of weeks later, Juanita returned to the sandwich shop, finding Koetje busy with customers and not able to spend much time to talk.

Juanita told Koetje she planned to divorce her husband.

Koetje said she apologized and said she really couldn’t talk any more at that point.

Juanita asked for just one more minute.

Koetje listened.

“She said, ‘I’m scared,’” Koetje said.

Koetje, who was divorced herself, asked, “What are you scared of? Walking away? I’m living proof you can do this.”

Juanita responded, “I’m just scared.”

Koetje never did find out exactly what Juanita was afraid of.

“That was the last time I ever saw Juanita,” Koetje testified tearfully.

Robert Westfall, a friend of Juanita’s father Don Culver, testified that Juanita Richardson took an interest in his being a single parent with two daughters as early as 1986.

Westfall testified Juanita wanted to know how hard it was to be a single parent. The subject came up again on another discussion in 1988.

In 1992, Westfall said he asked Juanita Richardson why she was so interested in the subject when she brought it up again. Westfall told her she should not tolerate mental or physical abuse and if there was any, she should consider getting out of the relationship.

“She said there had been abuse,” Westfall said. “She also mentioned she had an obligation to her family.”

Then three months before Juanita died, Westfall — who testified he’d seen other mentally abusive actions in the past by Thomas Richardson — said he was at a family barbecue and again witnessed him belittling Juanita.

On a house tour a little later that day, Westfall said Juanita told him she was sorry Westfall had to witness that “tantrum.”

She told Westfall “after June there won’t be any more.”

As they continued the house tour, they came to a room where her youngest child Levi was working on a computer with a friend.

“She said he’s not very far from graduating in June,” Westfall said Juanita told him.

Westfall said he made the assumption based on the first conversation minutes earlier that Juanita planned to divorce her husband after Levi’s graduation in June.

On cross-examination, defense attorneys had Westfall reiterate that he was a good friend of Juanita’s father. Westfall said Don Culver was the best man at his wedding in 1992.

Westfall said he had seen Thomas Richardson eight to 10 times over the past 20 years.

In all, 19 witnessed testified Tuesday, including Jeanie Culver, Juanita Richardson’s mother.

Culver said until the murder and manslaughter proceedings against her son-in-law, she had never heard of a “honeymoon spot” shared by the couple.

This was the name Thomas Richardson said he and his wife had given to the cliff lookout spot where Juanita Richardson died. The couple was married 23 years.

Culver said Thomas Richardson has never given her an account of how her daughter died. She said it was “very bad” that she had to be told by police of her death, instead of by him.

Culver said the day of Levi Richardson’s graduation party, Juanita Richardson told her that Thomas Richardson asked her whether she wanted to be cremated or buried when she died.

Culver said Juanita answered she wanted to be cremated, but Culver was skeptical of her certainty about her answer.

Shakily, Culver held a picture of Juanita up so the jury could see the last photograph taken of her.

Crying, she said, “This is my daughter that was killed.”

Culver said her husband went to spend the Christmas after Juanita Richardson died in Idaho with Westfall. He had asked her to go, too, but she said she couldn’t.

Culver said, “His heart was so broken from the loss of our daughter, he had to get away.”

Article Photos

Kathy Koetje testified Tuesday she wished she could turn back time to change the outcome of a meeting she had with Juanita Richardson nine months before she died in June 2006. (Journal photo by John Pepin)



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