More remains believed to be those of Mitrice Richardson are found in Malibu search
Coroner’s investigators are combing the rugged Los Angeles-area ravine where Mitrice Richardson’s remains were found, searching for body parts that they may have missed in the initial search.
Three bone fragments, believed to be from two fingers and a wrist, have been found so far, according to Steve Whitmore, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
“The coroner wants to go back there and make sure we’ve found everything,” he said.
The disappearance of the 24-year-old sparked national headlines. She was arrested in September 2009 at Geoffrey’s restaurant in Malibu after being unable to pay an $89 dinner tab and acting bizarrely. She was released from the sheriff’s Lost Hills/Malibu station after midnight -- without her car, purse or cellphone -- and vanished. Her remains were found in a remote Malibu Canyon ravine nearly 11 months later.
The family, which has filed suit against the county and the Sheriff’s Department, alleging negligence and wrongful death, has been urging investigators to revisit the site after Mitrice’s mother, Latice Sutton, in November visited the area where her daughter was found and found a finger bone.
“If I can go up there and find a finger bone while I’m up there memorializing her, then a thorough job was not done,” she said, adding that she couldn't "describe how angry it makes me" to have to push for a more thorough investigation.
Sutton, who believes her daughter was sexually assaulted and murdered before being dumped in the ravine, said a “very vital bone” remained missing -- the hyoid. The bone, which is found in the neck, could determine whether Richardson was strangled.
Sheriff Lee Baca had requested that the FBI assist in the investigation, but on Friday the federal agency declined to do so, saying that its work would be duplicative and that there were chain-of-custody issues because of the handling of Richardson’s clothing after her remains were found. Her family plans to appeal the decision.
Richardson’s disappearance spurred a nationwide search, and controversy resulted over the handling of the case, from its very inception.
The Sheriff’s Department came under fire for releasing a young woman into a remote area after midnight, without her car, purse or cellphone, and without any apparent way of getting home.
Once her remains were found, the coroner’s office blasted the Sheriff’s Department for moving the remains before coroner’s investigators could examine them.
In November, a coroner's official said actions by sheriff's deputies may have violated the law by removing the remains without permission from the coroner’s office and may have undermined the thoroughness of the coroner's investigation.
Assistant Chief Coroner Ed Winter said he was "very clear" with sheriff's officials and could not think of another case in which a police agency had moved entire skeletal remains without the coroner's approval.
A sheriff's spokesman said at the time that deputies removed Richardson's body from the scene without the coroner's permission because they were concerned that it was getting dark and that animals might destroy the remains.
Whitmore said Sunday that 99% of Richardson’s remains had been found shortly after their discovery but that the coroner’s office had long wanted to send out its investigators to search the area again.
Rainy conditions have hampered previous efforts, but sunny, dry weather allowed investigators to visit the site by helicopter on Sunday.
Six coroner’s investigators, one sheriff’s homicide investigator and a search dog were lowered from the chopper by harness into the ravine at about 9:30 a.m. and had been expected to spend several hours searching the site.
-- Seema Mehta in Lost Hills
Photo: Litrice Sutton, left, mother of Mitrice Richardson, with friend Ronda Hampton, works on an e-mail to federal officials while keeping a vigil at Lost Hills Sheriff's station in Agoura on Sunday afternoon. ( Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)