Husband in Staged Death Case is Accused of Killings

Michael Richardson is also accused of having sex with teenage niece

Michael Richardson Arrest photo

A Chula Vista man is accused of killing his wife and mother-in-law, then staging a car crash scene with their bodies.

Michael Richardson allegedly murdered his wife and mother-in-law in late June. The charges filed Thursday include a special circumstance allegation of multiple murders. If found guilty, Richardson could face the death penalty

Richardson is also accused of having sex with his teenage niece. He pleaded not guilty on July 6 to multiple counts of sex with a minor and trying to dissuade a witness from testifying.

A Honda Accord owned by Richardson and his 39-year-old wife, Thao, was discovered upside down in a ravine off state Route 67 in Lakeside on June 29. Thao and her mother, Than Lyi, 72, were found dead near the vehicle.

Investigators originally thought the crash scene was a tragic accident, until they looked closely at the injuries on the bodies. A law enforcement source said at least one of the women had been shot.

In other court moves on Thursday, defense attorney Domenic Lombardo requested to be relieved from the case, telling the court that his client was indigent. In his place, the court appointed Deputy Public Defender Megan Marcotte.

The discussion of Richardson's indigent status came after Deputy District Attorney Chantal de Mauregne's estimation in court in July that Richardson had assets of nearly $10 million. The prosecutors also said in July that Richardson had in the past moved large amounts of funds between accounts, with some transactions totaling as much as $500,000.

Judge Charles Ervin ruled in the July that the Chula Vista man would be held without bail, citing the fact that he had escaped from prison in the past.

According to court records from North Carolina, Richardson was convicted of robbery with a weapon in 1976. He then escaped from prison in 1982 and was later caught in San Diego and sent back to prison in 2000. He was then placed on parole until 2004. It was around that time that he and his wife, Thao, had a daughter.

Demauregne told the court in July that Richardson's wife discovered the relationship between her husband and maternal niece -- which investigators believe began in January -- when she read text messages sent between the two. Thao demanded an end to the relationship, according to prosecutors, but Demauregne said the pair did not break it off. Michael Richardson also allegedly told the teen they would run off together and take the Richardsons' now 7-year-old daughter with them.

Richardson is due in court on Jan. 19 for a preliminary hearing. After that hearing, the district attorney's office will determine whether to seek the death penalty.

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