Pastor Convicted of Repeatedly Raping Adopted Daughter Gets Light Sentence Because of “Longtime Ministry”
Health Impact News
David Richards, a former Pastor and former case worker with Smoky Mountain Children’s Home in Sevierville, Tennessee, was convicted by a Knox County jury of seven women and five men in February this year (2019) on nine felony counts, including rape, incest and sexual battery by an authority figure regarding his then 14 year old adopted daughter, Amber Richards.
Prosecutors wanted the maximum sentence of 72 years behind bars, but the judge, Knox County Judge Steven Sword, gave him a much lighter sentence, due to his Christian ministry and supporters from his church who showed up at the sentencing. He sentenced Richards to only 12 years.
Prosecutors sought the maximum term of 72 years behind bars.
The judge acknowledged Richards’ longtime ministry — he began a Bible study among his fellow inmates while jailed at the Knox County Detention Facility — and the support he still receives as mitigating factors.
More than 30 people sat on the defendant’s side of the courtroom in a show of support, including David Thompson, who shared ministry duties with Richards at My Father’s House Church of God in Lenoir City.
“I find it impossible for me to believe he’s guilty of this,” said Thompson, who echoed the call for leniency. “His business needs him. His family needs him. Our church needs him.” (Source.)
Victims of sexual abuse are seldom identified in court, but after a jury handed down the conviction of David Richards in February, his adopted daughter Amber decided to go public and make a statement.
She was in court during the sentencing, sitting with her biological parents and a half dozen other supporters.
The Knoxville News Sentinel typically does not identify victims in sexual abuse cases, but Amber Richards chose to speak publicly after the February verdicts.
She sat on the opposite side of the courtroom Thursday, joined by a half-dozen others, including her biological parents, who she has reconnected with in recent years.
“I wanted to throw my body away,” Amber Richards said as she delivered her victim impact statement Thursday.
“Not a day goes by that I don’t, in some way, think of what he did to me. … I firmly believe if given the opportunity, he would victimize another young girl.” (Source.)
Richards Maintains Innocence, but Jury Finds Him Guilty
David Richards maintained his innocence throughout the trial and after being convicted:
“I stand before you convicted of crimes I did not commit,” said David Richards, 41. “I simply believe the system just erred in this case.
“I’m not sure why I’m here. … but I assume it’s for His purpose.”
A Knox County jury of seven women and five men found him guilty after less than three hours of deliberation.
The Knoxville News Sentinel reported on the case that prosecutors built on the evidence they uncovered. His former wife, who apparently did not testify in the case, left him prior to the arrest.
David Richards and his then-wife took in Amber Richards and her three biological siblings as foster children in 2008. They joined a household that already included the couple’s daughter and an adopted son.
At the time, David Richards was employed as a case worker with Smoky Mountain Children’s Home in Sevierville. He also served as a minister at My Father’s House Church of God in Lenoir City.
David Richards and his wife soon adopted the girl and her older sister, Megan Richards, through the children’s home. The couple has since separated.
“I didn’t know what I was doing, but I parented them as best I could,” the 41-year-old defendant said, taking the witness stand in his own defense Friday. “My wife left them, with no notice, no explanation and never talked to them again.”
The adopted daughter allegedly decided to report Richards to authorities when she was 16.
Amber Richards, then 16, reported the alleged abuse to her high school guidance counselor Dec. 3. 2013. She claimed she had woken up that morning to find Richards standing next to her bed, pulling her hand inside his pants.
Authorities were notified and the teen sat for a forensic interview at Childhelp Children’s Center of East Tennessee the next day. Amber Richards claimed the abuse had begun with inappropriate touching in 2011, when she was 14, and escalated to raping her several times in their East Knox County home since the summer of 2013 – always while she pretended to be asleep.
“I didn’t want to see him, I didn’t want to open my eyes,” she testified. “I just wanted it to be over.”
The teen told authorities about various places where they might find semen stains in her bedroom – a bed comforter, the bed frame and a purple rug.
She also described a text she had received from him two months earlier, about taking their relationship “to the next level.” (Source.)
The sheriff’s office then began an investigation.
The Knox County Sheriff’s Office executed a search warrant at David Richards’ Millertown Pike home Dec. 5, 2013. Stains believed to be seminal fluid were found on the girl’s bedroom rug, at the foot of her mattress and on a wooden drawer incorporated into the bed frame.
Investigators found a bare mattress on her bed.
“It had been completely stripped,” said KCSO lead investigator Lt. Allen Merritt. “It kind of sent off bells and whistles.”
The girl’s bedding was located in the home’s laundry room dryer, washed and dried. Bedding in the other bedrooms appeared untouched.
Forensic testing later verified the presence of spermatozoa in one of three samples taken from the bed frame drawer. The portion of the sample containing sperm was insufficient for DNA testing, according to the forensic biology report.
The “non-sperm fraction” of that same seminal fluid sample, however, contained a mixture of at least two DNA profiles, neither of which matched the girl. The “major contributor profile” matched David Richards, the report states.
Investigators also seized David and Amber Richards’ iPhones. David Richards had administrative access to both phones through a shared Apple iCloud account. When KCSO investigators attempted to inspect the phones, they displayed setup screens indicating a factory reset option had been activated for both. It could not be determined who activated the factory resets.
On the witness stand, David Richards had no explanation for why his DNA was found anywhere in his daughter’s bedroom.
He said he is incapable of producing spermatozoa, though; Richards had a vasectomy in 2001, he testified.
Richard’s attorney, Gregg Harrison, introduced a 2018 physician’s report as evidence supporting the claim. (Source.)
There was reportedly other evidence supplied to the jury besides the DNA report. The sheriff investigation shows that Richards may well have had a relationship with Amber’s sister, Megan, as well.
DNA wasn’t the only evidence found in the home.
Merritt testified he spotted two toothbrushes in the father’s bathroom, and women’s makeup in the bedroom. The bedding on David Richards’ bed was pulled back on both sides.
“It would lead me to believe two people had slept in this bed,” Merritt said.
A gift bag containing women’s lingerie and a small, stuffed teddy bear were sitting on the father’s bedroom floor.
David Richards told investigators at the time he wasn’t dating anyone.
Under cross-examination Friday, however, the defendant claimed he had dated three women around that time, including one unidentified woman who had stayed overnight at some point when the children were away with friends.
“To be clear, today’s the first time you’ve mentioned that, right?” Knox County Assistant District Attorney Nathaniel Ogle asked.
When investigators arrived to search the Richards home that night, they found David Richards and two glasses of wine by the sofa. But no girlfriend.
“The only two people in the residence when we got there were David Richards and Megan Richards,” Merritt said. (Source.)
But Megan testified against her sister, not in support of her.
Megan Richards testified she would have done anything to protect her younger sister had she suspected something was wrong.
“Absolutely – whatever it took to get her out of there,” she said.
Amber and Megan Richards had lived together among 17 foster homes in three states over the span of a decade, and she was “extremely protective” of her siblings, Megan Richards said.
Yet the older sister claimed she never suspected anything inappropriate.
And she directly contradicted Amber Richards’ testimony that she had confided in Megan Richards about the abuse before she reported it to authorities.
“That is not true,” Megan Richards testified.
Ogle questioned the older sister about the fact that she, then 19, was still living in the home when the alleged abuse first came to light.
Her cross-examination also revealed that Megan Richards, now 24, currently shares a home with David Richards in Lenoir City, and works as an office assistant at his trucking business, Purpose Transport LLC.
“You can infer whatever you want from the facts,” Ogle told jurors during his closing argument. “But it’s not a typical father-daughter relationship. … It’s an awful lot of smoke.” (Source.)
Amber also has a pending $17 million civil lawsuit against Richards and Smoky Mountain Children’s Home along with three other staffers there.
Amber Richards said she ultimately hopes to use her experience to counsel other victims of sexual abuse.
“I’m not going to let him ruin my life,” she said. “You can’t keep me down … I will keep fighting.
“He messed with the wrong girl.” (Source.)