A Utah mother who wrote a children's book about how to cope with grief after her husband's death last year is accused of having poisoned him with a lethal dose of fentanyl after she served him a celebratory Moscow Mule.
Kouri Richins, 33, was arrested Monday on charges of aggravated murder and three counts of possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute. Her attorney declined to comment Tuesday.
Richins' husband, Eric Richins, died at their Kamas home, about 40 miles southeast of Salt Lake City, on March 4, 2022. Summit County sheriff’s deputies responded after Richins called 911 to report she had found him unresponsive in their bedroom, according to a probable cause statement.
Deputies found Eric Richins on the floor at the foot of the bed, the document said. Lifesaving measures were attempted, but he was declared dead.
Suspect asked for ‘the Michael Jackson stuff,’ court records show
Before her husband's death, Richins asked an acquaintance for something strong — “some of the Michael Jackson stuff” — according to the court document. (Jackson died in 2009 at his Los Angeles home after having received a lethal dose of propofol.) The acquaintance got dozens of fentanyl pills for her, the document said.
Richins told investigators that the night before her husband died, the couple were celebrating because she had closed on a home for her business, the document said. She said that she made him a Moscow Mule in the kitchen and took it to the bedroom and that he drank it sitting in bed, the statement said.
She told investigators, according to the document, that she slept in one of her children's bedrooms because the child had a night terror. She allegedly woke up around 3 a.m. and found that her husband was in their bedroom "cold to the touch."
Richins told deputies she left her cellphone in her bedroom and did not take it to her child’s room. Investigators later learned that her phone had been locked and unlocked several times and that it showed movement during the time frame when she said she was in her child’s room, according to the probable cause statement. Text messages were sent and received that had been deleted, it said.
At the time of Eric Richins’ death, the only people in the home were the couple and their three young sons, it said.
Book dedication mentions 'my amazing husband'
A year after her husband's death, Richins published a book titled "Are You With Me?" to "create peace and comfort for children who have lost a loved one," according to a description on Amazon. It said the book will help reassure children that although their loved one "is not present, their presence always exist and they walk through life with you as if they were here."
In the 41-page book, a boy questions whether his father is with him when he is sad or mad and whether he is with him for special occasions: at his soccer game when he scores, his birthday, Christmas and when he starts his first day of school.
The father reassures the boy that he is there for all of those moments.
Kouri Richins dedicated the book to "my amazing husband and a wonderful father." It has been removed from Amazon.
In an interview with KTVX-TV of Salt Lake City last month, Richins discussed her book and her husband's death, which she said happened "unexpectedly."
"It took us all by shock. My kids and I kind of wrote this book on the different emotions and grieving processes that we experienced last year, hoping that it can kind of help other kids deal with this and find happiness some way or another," she told KTVX reporters.
She went on to talk about how she would tell her children that their "dad is still here, just in a different way." Richins said she wrote the book after she saw how her children struggled with their father's death.
The station updated its story Tuesday to say it had not been aware Richins was suspected in her husband's death.
She posted a video collage of her husband and children on Facebook last week and wrote in the caption that life has been hard without him.
"The cards I have been dealt seems like a game that just can't be played," she posted, adding the hashtag "pleasecomehome."
Fentanyl overdose led to man's death, autopsy shows
Investigators said an autopsy and a toxicology report found that Eric Richins died from a fentanyl overdose, according to the probable cause statement. The medical examiner said that he had five times the lethal dosage of fentanyl in his system and that it was “illicit” fentanyl and not medical-grade. It is also believed he ingested the drugs orally, according to the probable cause statement.
Authorities accused Richins of having obtained the fentanyl pills from an acquaintance identified as “C.L,” the probable cause statement said. They also alleged that Eric Richins had told a friend that he believed his wife had tried to poison him after a Valentine’s Day dinner, weeks before he died.
A search with a warrant showed several communications on Kouri Richins’ phone between her and the acquaintance, the document said.
The acquaintance, who had multiple drug charges, told investigators that Richins had reached out from December 2021 to February 2022 and asked for “prescription pain medication for an investor who had a back injury,” the probable cause said.
“Within a few days, C.L. procured hydrocodone pills from a dealer. Defendant told C.L. to leave the pills at a house defendant was flipping in Midway. C.L. left the pills at the house and defendant left cash for C.L.,” it alleged.
The acquaintance got 15 to 30 fentanyl pills and delivered them to Richins, who paid $900 for the drugs. Three days later, on Feb. 14, 2022, Eric Richins became ill after a Valentine’s Day dinner at home with his wife, according to the document.
“Eric believed that he had been poisoned. Eric told a friend that he thought his wife was trying to poison him,” investigators wrote.
“About two weeks later, defendant contacted C.L. again and said that her investor wanted something stronger and asked for ‘some of the Michael Jackson stuff.’ The defendant asked specifically for fentanyl,” according to the probable cause statement.
She again paid $900 for the drugs, it said. Days later, her husband was dead.
The sheriff's office declined to answer questions about the case, saying it is being handled by the Summit County Attorney's Office. Margaret Olson, the county attorney, said her office would not be making statements on the matter.
"Please keep in mind there are three young children belonging to the decedent and the accused, making this matter very sensitive and difficult," she said in an email.
A detention hearing is scheduled for May 19.
CORRECTION (May 9, 2023, 7:15 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article misspelled the first name of the Summit County attorney. She is Margaret Olson, not Margret.