Richards gets 15 years for shooting, drug charges

Tuesday, August 8, 2006

The gunman who killed a 17-year-old youth in Cape Girardeau in January received a 15-year prison sentence Monday.

Circuit Judge William Syler sentenced Bernard Richards, 19, of Ullin, Ill., to seven years' imprisonment for felony involuntary manslaughter. Richards also received an 8-year prison sentence for possession of a controlled substance in an unrelated case.

Richards was accused of shooting Jacob Bowers of Cape Girardeau during a botched robbery Jan. 25 behind Du-Shell's Furniture, 2103 William St.

Bowers attempted to rob at gunpoint a drug dealer and acquaintance of Richards when Richards opened fire, hitting the victim in the back and killing him.

"We've been forever robbed of the joy of seeing Jacob grow into manhood," his grandmother Rosemary Davis said in court.

Both of the victim's parents, Kristi and Kendall Bowers, implied there was more to the story behind the shooting. Shortly before the slaying, Richards joined his acquaintance, David McKee Jr., and warned him of the imminent robbery.

Kendall Bowers questioned how Richards knew of the robbery, something that has not been answered.

"Did Mr. Richards have a score to settle with my son?" he asked in court.

Richards' sentence departed from a plea agreement between the accused and the prosecuting attorney's office. When Richards pleaded guilty to his charges July 17, Prosecuting Attorney Morley Swingle agreed to drop charges of second-degree murder, armed criminal action and tampering with a witness. He also said he would ask for a 7-year sentence.

When Syler refused to accept the plea agreement and imposed the 15 years, defense attorney Derrick Williams asked to withdraw his client's guilty plea. Williams argued that if a judge was not willing to accept the plea agreement, a defendant has the right to withdraw his plea.

Swingle said it was "very clear" that the judge said at the time of the plea he would not accept the agreement.

Williams contended that the judge indicated the sentencing assessment report for Richards would be reviewed before the plea agreement would be accepted.

Syler said he was not bound by recommendations and denied Williams' request.

Richards has the option of appealing the judge's ruling. Williams said he will talk to his client about the pros and cons of filing an appeal.

If he exhibits good behavior, Richards could be released from prison after serving about 40 percent of his total sentence, Swingle said.

Before the sentence was handed down, Richards addressed the Bowers family and apologized.

"This is a great tragedy that happened," he said.

kmorrison@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 127

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