By Josué Monroy
INDIO – A Riverside County woman is facing multiple charges in separate cases involving a string of unhinged violent crimes back in December 2018—the most serious of these include the attempted murder of her sister, arson, and animal cruelty.
The incidents were described in a preliminary hearing in front of Judge Otis Sterling at Riverside County Superior Court’s Larson Justice Center last week in Indio.
Erin Richey, 39, is accused of attacking her sister with a mallet outside a home in Palm Desert, after an argument escalated into violence. According to Riverside County Sheriff deputies and witness testimony, Richey struck the victim on the head multiple times in a rage, seriously injuring her and leaving a trail of blood in the home’s driveway.
Deputy Jose Santos testified for the prosecution in Riverside County Court, stating that on December 15, 2018, he responded to a call at a home in Palm Desert, and contacted the victim upon arriving. The suspect had taken the victim’s car and fled the scene after the attack.
On her way down the driveway, Richey swerved in the direction of her mother, who was standing to the side making a phone call to police reporting the incident, according to the victim. The officer noted that there were several droplets of blood on the driveway and on the gravel adjacent to it. He also located the alleged weapon, a yellow plastic mallet, about 40-50 away.
A medical assessment of the victim indicated that her injuries were consistent with those of homicidal victims and they could have resulted in death. In an interview with police after being detained, the defendant allegedly stated that if she wanted to kill her sister, she would have given her a “death blow” she learned in Krav Maga classes.
After attacking the victim, Richey fled down Highway 74 in Riverside County, and there the situation would take a bizarre turn.
Later that day, clerks at a liquor store in Hemet, about 60 miles west of Palm Desert, called police to report that a woman was threatening to kill herself while purchasing lighter fluid. Her clothes were covered in blood.
Sheriff’s Deputy Alfredo Medina testified that upon arriving at the liquor store he was told by witnesses that the woman had left the scene, taking off in a Hyundai sedan with Arizona license plates. Sometime later, Medina received a call from a California State Parks officer reporting an animal abuse incident in Idyllwild, an area about 40 miles east of Hemet.
The State Parks officer indicated that a white female had set an animal on fire in a driveway while standing next to a Hyundai sedan matching the description of the one seen leaving the Hemet liquor store. The officer told Deputy Medina that as he approached the suspect, he saw what he believed to be a plastic animal kennel that had been lit on fire with a small animal inside.
Upon arriving at the scene, the deputy confirmed it was the same vehicle from the earlier incident. Medina noted that there was some lighter fluid next to the driveway, and the animal remains were nearby. He also found cat adoption papers from a local animal shelter dated earlier that day.
Richey told the deputy that she was “tired of the cat pissing everywhere,” and that it was “crying all night and wouldn’t be quiet.”
A few days prior to assaulting her sister and lighting a cat on fire, authorities allege that Richey attempted to burn down the carport of a Palm Desert woman. On December 12, a homeowner called authorities after observing a woman light one of the carport’s support pillars on fire, and then throwing incendiary devices into the structure before fleeing into the night.
The victim was able to put out the fire immediately with a garden hose. The suspect was caught on a home security surveillance camera, and police were able to get a general description of the woman.
Authorities were not able to locate a suspect for days afterwards, until the sheriff’s department contacted Cal Fire, the agency that responded to and was investigating the carport arson, suspecting Richey was involved due to the nature of the incident.
Cal Fire captain specialist Wayne Howerton testified that upon searching Richey’s home, investigators from Cal Fire and the Riverside County Sheriff found charcoal briquets, tree branches, and a flammable gel-like substance that were all connected to the crime scene. The suspect allegedly doused tree branches in the gel-like substance and made torches that she later threw into the carport.
After the allegations against Richey were made, the defense brought up the issue of mental illness as a contributing factor in the assault, arguing that it was not an attempt at premeditated murder. The defendant heard voices in her head and has mental health issues, stated the defense.
Judge Sterling ruled that there was insufficient evidence of mental illness at that time, and noted there was probable cause and strong suspicion to hold Richey to the charges.
The matter will continue to Aug. 28 for a formal arraignment. Richey will be charged with attempted murder, assault with a deadly weapon, arson, animal cruelty, and vehicle theft.
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