COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) — Last week, the 17-year-old accused of killing a man in the parking lot of a Columbus strip club nearly three years ago turned down a plea deal that would have made him a free man before he was 35.
Raymond Richmond was just 14 when he was accused of shooting Samuel London to death during what police say was a car theft gone bad.
A group of five teenagers were allegedly breaking into cars in the Foxy Lady Lounge parking lot off Victory Drive. It happened June 5, 2020 when London, a patron of the establishment, went to get in his vehicle and found Richmond inside. An altercation ensured between the two shortly before Richmond allegedly shot London.
Richmond was arrested two months later. Police say he confessed to the shooting at the time of his arrest.
More than three years into the case, Richmond entered the courtroom Tuesday with what appeared to be a guilty plea deal in place. Instead, fired his attorney public defender Steve Craft and told the judge he wanted a paid lawyer.
Here’s what Craft said in open court: “Richmond has indicated he wishes to fire me, I’ve explained to him that he has three options in the manner of representation. He can represent himself. He can retain a private attorney, or he can use my services, but he doesn’t get a different public defender.”
Craft then explained to Superior Court Judge John Martin why if Craft is fired, the public defender’s office is off the case.
“That’s not how public defenders are assigned, and he wishes to have someone else represent,” Craft said. “I would ask the court to make an inquiry that he understands that in doing so, the state can withdraw the offer and there would be no recommendation and the state would take the case to trial on the murder charge.”
The case is being prosecuted by Christopher George, an attorney with the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia. George is in the case because Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit District Attorney Stacey Jackson had to recuse his office. There are five co-defendants, including Richmond, charged with murder in London’s death. Jackson, a criminal defense attorney at the time, represented one of the co-defendants briefly during a preliminary hearing.
The plea deal negotiated between George and Craft lessened the felony murder charge to voluntary manslaughter. The offer on the table was a 20 year prison sentence for the manslaughter charge, and five years probation on entering an auto.
“Is it your desire that you don’t want Mr. Craft to represent you anymore, is that correct?” the judge asked.
“He ain’t been doing nothing, so I just don’t feel comfortable with him no more,” Richmond told the judge.
The judge responded, “Do you understand that even though you said you don’t think that he’s done anything, you understand that Mr. Craft is negotiating an opportunity to resolve your case without having to plead to the murder count, or counts that carry the life sentence, do you understand that? Do you understand that he has created that opportunity for you here today?”
“Yes sir,” Richmond responded.
Craft, even though he had been fired, continued to advocate for Richmond.
“If I might offer one thing, I’m going to ask the court’s indulgence as the court is aware part of this plea involved a plea to an intellectually disabled situation,” Craft said. “I can beg the court’s indulgence and ask this to be continued on one docket. So that I might confer with him just a little more and I’ll notify the state and the court before that day. If he intends to hire somebody, and I’ll impress the importance of getting that resolved before we come back to court.”
Craft told the judge there may be some intellectual issues with his client.
“I just feel like maybe it’s a little overwhelming this morning, being in the courtroom and being faced with a life-altering decision with his other issues. He’s competent, doctors never disagreed about that, and the doctors are in agreement that he does have some intellectual disability. I don’t want us to back him into a corner if there is somebody to get some clarity on this. Then I can contact his family, I’ve been in contact with his mother during various portions of the case.”
Richmond never backed down from his decision to fire Craft.
By firing his public defender during court and rejecting the plea offer, the state withdrew the agreement and told the judge it was prepared to go to trial on the murder charges.
Martin asked Richmond how he intended to pay for a private attorney. Richmond said he spoke to his family previously, who were not present in the courtroom, and said they would hire one.
Richmond was housed in the Youth Detention Center from the time he was arrested until he turned 17 in December. He was then moved to the Muscogee County Jail.
The other four co-defendants, all 18 years old or younger at the time of the incident, include Cecil Berguin, Jyquarious Varner, Santonio Williams, and Vic’trez Thomas.