NATIONAL NEWS

Utah kids’ book author accused in husband’s killing changed life insurance policies, prosecutors say

May 18, 2023, 6:44 PM | Updated: 8:04 pm

This photo provided by KPCW.org shows Kouri Richins at the KPCW studio in Park City, Utah, April 12...

This photo provided by KPCW.org shows Kouri Richins at the KPCW studio in Park City, Utah, April 12, 2023. Richins was arrested on Monday, May 8, in Utah and is accused in charging documents of poisoning her husband with a lethal dose of fentanyl at their home in Kamas, a small mountain town near Park City. (KPCW.org via AP)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(KPCW.org via AP)

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A Utah woman who wrote a children’s book about grief after her husband’s death and was later arrested on accusations of killing him made changes to her husband’s life insurance years before he was fatally poisoned, according to charging documents updated Thursday.

The additional allegations, which were previously mentioned in search warrants but not the charging documents, led to the postponement of a detention hearing scheduled for Friday that would have been the first time Kouri Richins was in court since her case became the latest true crime sensation earlier this month. The hearing has been rescheduled for June 12.

Prosecutors say Kouri Richins, 33, poisoned her husband, Eric Richins, 39, by slipping five times the lethal dose of fentanyl into a cocktail she made for him in March 2022. The mother of three later self-published a children’s book titled “Are You with Me?” about an angel wing-clad deceased father watching over his sons. She promoted it on television and radio, describing the book as a way to help children grieve the loss of a loved one.

Years before, Kouri Richins bought four life insurance policies on her husband’s life without his knowledge from 2015 to 2017 with benefits totaling nearly $2 million, prosecutors alleged in the documents updated Thursday.

The documents don’t disclose when Eric Richins discovered the changes but do say he met with a divorce attorney and estate planner in October 2020, a month after he discovered his wife had carried out several other major financial moves without his knowledge.

Prosecutors said Eric Richins found out that his wife had taken out a $250,000 home equity line of credit and spent it, withdrawn $100,000 from his bank accounts, and spent more than $30,000 on his credit cards, according to the documents. Kouri Richins also stole about $134,000 from her husband’s business meant for tax payments, the documents state.

She agreed to repay her husband when he confronted her, according to the documents.

Family members interviewed by investigators indicated that Eric Richins was seeking to divorce Kouri Richins and had recently changed his will and life insurance policy.

Previous charging documents and warrants detail the yearlong investigation that authorities pursued before arresting Kouri Richins this month. The documents include interviews with an unnamed informant who says she dealt Richins hydrocodone and fentanyl in the weeks and months before her husband’s death.

Richins, a real estate agent, told the dealer that both drugs were for an investor with back pain. The dealer said Richins purchased the hydrocodone shortly before Valentine’s Day, when prosecutors say she laced drugs into Eric Richins’ sandwich.

After he survived, his wife asked for stronger drugs, specifically “some of the Michael Jackson stuff,” the dealer told investigators. When Jackson died of cardiac arrest in 2009, medical examiners found prescription drugs and powerful anesthetics in his system, not fentanyl.

Kouri Richins’ attorney, Skye Lazaro, has declined to comment on the charges.

The case has directed the world’s eyes to the sleepy towns on the backside of Utah’s Wasatch Mountains, which are rapidly evolving from predominantly agricultural communities to high-end bedroom communities, where first- and second-time homeowners like the Richinses can enjoy easy access to skiing, hiking trails and the alpine lakes of the nearby Uinta Mountains. The Richinses lived in a new development in the town of Francis, which is roughly 50 miles (80 kilometers) east of Salt Lake City.

Eric Richins descended from a large family, well-known locally, with members active in local politics and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He met Kouri Richins when she worked at a local Home Depot where he often shopped, a former colleague told KUTV.

Eric’s family told investigators that he had raised suspicions that his wife had previously tried to poison him, including on a vacation to Greece a few years ago. They also raised questions about marital disagreements stemming from changes to his will and the purchase of a incomplete nearby mansion in Midway, Utah, that Kouri Richins bought hoping to quickly sell.

The person who says she sold Kouri Richins the fentanyl told investigators she left the pills at the expansive, unfinished home — a 20,000-square-foot (1,860-square-meter) manor that, when complete, will have eight bedrooms and an indoor volleyball court, a video ad promoting its sale shows.

Marital disputes over the home are the basis for one of many unanswered questions about motive that will likely arise should Richins’ case go to trial. Since Eric Richins’ death, his relatives have fought his wife over his estate, including competing claims over how to split a masonry business with his former partner and what claims Kouri Richins has to a trust set aside for his next of kin.

Greg Skordas, an attorney and victims’ advocate working with Eric Richins’ relatives, said Richins’ three children are staying with an unnamed relative while their mother awaits trial. Katie Richins-Benson, Eric Richins’ sister and the trustee to his estate, filed for guardianship over the children.

Civil court filings that were submitted in different cases after Eric Richins’ death outline how what attorneys call “the suspicious circumstances” surrounding his death have long circulated. The murder charges have become entangled with questions over his assets and an estate held in a trust and managed by his sister. Kouri Richins has fought with members of her deceased husband’s family since the day after his death, the documents show.

Kouri Richins and her sister-in-law had a fight the day after Eric Richins’ death at the family home, according to the documents. Kouri Richins subsequently sued for more than $3.6 million and to remove Katie Richins-Benson as trustee, arguing that a prenuptial agreement she and her husband signed entitled her to his assets if he died before they divorced.

Utah law prohibits those convicted of homicide from profiting from their crime.

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