Person of interest in double homicides denies molesting niece - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Person of interest in double homicides pleads not guilty to molesting niece

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SAN DIEGO, Calif. (CBS 8) - The man considered a "person of interest" in the death of his wife and mother-in-law pleaded not guilty Tuesday to multiple sex charges involving his 17-year-old niece.

Michael Eugene Richardson, 57, was arrested last week on suspicion of having a sexual relationship with the teenager.

Richardson is charged with three counts of statutory rape, eight counts of oral copulation with a minor, one count of sexual penetration of a minor, and one count of attempting to dissuade a witness. He faces up to 11 years in prison if convicted.

Investigators have said the Chula Vista resident is also at the center of a homicide investigation involving his wife Thoa Richardson, 39, and his mother-in-law Than Lyi, 72.

The bodies of both women were found at the bottom of a cliff last Tuesday beside a wrecked Honda Accord off state Route 67 near Lakeside. Detectives believe the accident was staged to cover up the murders.

Richardson has not been charged in the deaths.

In court Tuesday, a prosecutor told the judge that Richardson -- a Poway auto repair shop owner -- has total assets of $10 million dollars. Deputy District Attorney Chantal DeMauregne also said Richardson has transferred in excess of $500,000 into various bank accounts in recent days.

DeMauregne did not elaborate on how Richardson accumulated the assets.

"There are a lot of other factors that I can't go into as to where that money was coming from," DeMauregne told News 8 outside court.

Richardson leases his Poway business property named Mike's Auto on Pomerado Road. His 1,766-square-foot house on Brooks Trail Court in Eastlake has an estimated value of $354,000, according to the real estate web site Zillow.com.  The home is held in a living trust with his deceased wife Thao.

Prosecutors allege Richardson started the sexual relationship with his niece shortly after she arrived with her mother from Vietnam and moved into his home last December.

Thao Richardson called police on March 16 after discovering incriminating text messages, DeMauregne said.

"There were text messages that led her to believe there was a romantic relationship going on between the two of them," DeMauregne said.

Prosecutors say Richardson promised to take care of the teenager and told her he would run away with her, and bring his 6-year-old daughter with them. The teenager believed she was in love with the defendant, DeMauregne said, even though Richardson is 40 years older.

Defense attorney Domenic Lombardo argued Richardson should be eligible for bail because he is not charged with murder and the sex charges area questionable.

"The alleged victim said she made these statements implicating Mr. Richardson not because they were true, but for other reasons," Lombardo told the judge.

Those reasons were not disclosed and Lombardo declined to be interviewed outside court.

The judge ordered Richardson held without bail and ordered him to stay 100 yards away from the teenager should he be released at a future date.

Richardson was originally arrested March 17 on similar sex charges, but those charges were dropped and Richardson was released from jail after the alleged victim refused to cooperate with the police investigation.

Prosecutors allege Richardson coerced the girl not to testify against him. After the homicides came to light, the teenager decided to talk to law enforcement, prosecutors said.

Family members are attempting to gain custody of Richardson's young daughter, who was taken into custody by child protective services shortly after his arrest.

Richardson is an ex-con with a 1976 armed robbery conviction out of North Carolina. Prison officials say Richardson robbed a Fayetteville taxicab driver of a small amount of cash and shot him.

Richardson served six years of a 30-year prison sentence in North Carolina before he escaped in 1982 by walking away from a work crew, officials said. He was a fugitive for 18 years until his arrest in San Diego in 2000 and extradition back to North Carolina.

Court officials say the felony escape charge was reduced to a misdemeanor, and Richardson completed the remainder of his armed robbery sentence by serving seven months. He was released in 2001 and remained on parole until 2004, records show.

Richardson's next court appearance is scheduled for July 14 in Department 2 of the El Cajon courthouse at 9 a.m.

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