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Attorney John Andrews, left, talks to his client Kenneth Scott Richards, who is being tried at Newburyport Superior Court on a charge of first-degree murder in the death of his wife, Rachel, in June 2006.

NEWBURYPORT — An Essex County prosecutor yesterday described a troubled marriage between Kenneth Scott Richards and Rachel Richards, a relationship that ended when officials say the man smashed his wife’s skull with an aluminum baseball bat and killed her.

“He’s over her. There’s a baseball bat in his hands,” Kate MacDougall, the assistant district attorney, said during opening statements at Newburyport Superior Court. “And he swings the baseball bat at her head, and there is blood.

“And then he does it over and over again.”

Kenneth Scott Richards, 49, who goes by his middle name, faces a first-degree murder charge in the killing of his wife of 10 years, Rachel, 38. They lived together with their daughter, Samantha, 9 years old at the time, at 8 Longmeadow Drive, Rowley, where police and prosecutors say Scott Richards killed his wife in June 2006.

During opening statements and through the testimony of six prosecution witnesses in the first day of the trial, the prosecution set the foundation to show that Scott Richards killed his wife as she slept, before turning on himself with a kitchen knife — an act that created a bloody and gruesome scene police discovered after Samantha called police.

MacDougall and police said when authorities arrived at the condominium, they found a shirtless man gurgling with every breath and a woman covered in blood, cold to the touch, both lying on their backs on a bed “saturated” with blood.

The also said they found Samantha in her pajamas.

But John Andrews, Scott Richards’ court-appointed defense attorney, used opening statements and cross examinations to raise doubt about two main aspects of the prosecution’s case: the origins of a stab wound in Richards’ chest and Richards’ state of mind when questioned by police at Anna Jaques Hospital, where he was treated for his wounds.

Andrews urged jurors to pay particular attention to the statements Richards made and added that “the sequence of events are very important.”

“I ask you to keep an open mind until you see all of the evidence,” Andrews said during his opening statement.

911 tape

Richards, dressed in a blue sports jacket, light blue button-up shirt and black pants, sat between his two defense lawyers and throughout the questioning wrote an occasional note to his lawyers or whispered in their ears.

Meanwhile, in the public seating area in the back of the courtroom were six members of Rachel Richards’ family, who at times wept during testimony.

In her opening statements, MacDougall told 14 jurors — two alternates, nine men and five women — that they would hear a recording of the 911 call from Samantha Richards and that “you will hear how frantic she is.”

MacDougall also described the scene police found: a “door half ajar, the room dimly lit” with a knife lying on the floor by Richards’ hand and a hole in his chest.

She said the first officer on the scene — also an EMT — found Rachel Richards lying on her back on the bed. She said he knew “there was nothing he could do for her.”

MacDougall said Rachel Richards was having an affair with a man named Charlie, an affair “known to the defendant for at least a month.” She said that Rachel Richards was found with extensive head trauma, battered and bruised arms, a black eye and broken hand.

The prosecutor, continuing with her opening statement, also described how Scott Richards had confessed to a nurse and police at the hospital.

“I stabbed myself, and I killed my wife,” MacDougall said Richards told the nurse.

During his opening statement, Andrews said when Samantha called police, she described the condition in which she found her parents.

“She said daddy has a hole in his belly and that mommy may have dug that hole in his belly,” Andrews said. That point is something Andrews continued to emphasize during cross examination.

Andrews also said Richards was questioned by police after being given general anesthesia and other medication while still in the intensive care unit.

“You’re going to have concerns whether he was in any condition to answer questions,” he said.

Defense witnesses

MacDougall’s first witness was Carol MacDonald, a Salisbury resident who was Rachel Richards’ sister-in-law and is now the legal guardian for Samantha. MacDougall asked MacDonald few questions and presented a picture of Rachel Richards, dressed in a Halloween costume, which was then put into evidence.

“That’s her,” MacDonald said from the stand, looking at the photograph. “She loved Halloween.”

The prosecution’s second witness was Charles Hazen, the Rowley police dispatcher who took Samantha Richards’ 911 call at 7:58 a.m. the day of the killing. The officer said he dispatched police officers, an ambulance and a firetruck to respond to a “male party with a hole in his stomach.”

“I would say that she was nervous,” Hazen said of Samantha’s voice on the phone. “She sounded nervous to me.”

MacDougall then played a recording of the 911 call.

The exact words of the call were difficult to understand, but Samantha breathed heavily into the phone throughout the call, which evoked much emotion from Rachel’s family, who cried and wiped tears away with tissues.

During cross examination, Andrews asked about a statement in which Samantha said that her father had a “hole in his stomach” and that it may have been caused by her mother. Andrews, using a transcript of the call, asked Hazen if he remembered Samantha saying such a statement.

Hazen said he did not.

“I don’t remember those exact words,” Hazen said.

After different lines of questioning — one which MacDougall objected to and the judge sustained — Andrews asked Hazen again if Samantha had said “that mommy may have dug a hole in daddy’s stomach.”

“She said something to that effect,” Hazen replied.

First on the scene

Jeffrey French, a Rowley reserve police officer for 10 years and a lieutenant with the Ipswich Fire Department for 21 years, was the first officer on the scene and the third witness MacDougall called to testify.

He said he found the room dark, with no lights on and slight natural light coming through windows, which were covered by blinds. He said he found the bodies on the bed and that there was a bloody kitchen knife near Scott Richards’ hand, “as if it fell out of his hand and was lying here.”

French said he also noticed wounds to Scott Richards’ wrists, neck and abdomen.

French said he also saw an aluminum baseball bat on the side of the bed Rachel Richards was lying on. He said that her arms were covered with bruises and that it was obvious she was dead by the time he arrived.

“She was very white in color, blood all over her,” she said. “I detected several indentations that suggested severe” head trauma.

The fifth and sixth witness were Rowley police Sgt. Stephen May and State Trooper Robert LaBarge, respectively. The two men are the lead detectives in the case, who interviewed Scott Richards in his hospital bed at Anna Jaques Hospital later in the day of Rachel Richards’ death.

Both testified that they interviewed Scott Richards twice at the hospital, once soon after he awoke and once several hours later. Both said that during the first interview, Richards was difficult to understand.

May described his speech as “mumbled.” During the second interview, May said Richards’ “speech was clear and he seemed more coherent.”

May and LaBarge said each time they interviewed Richards, they read him his rights and Richards said he did not want a lawyer and would provide a statement.

May said he asked, during the first interview, “do you remember stabbing yourself?”

“Yes, and I killed my wife,” Richards said, according to May.

“Richards began to cry at that point,” May said.

May said during the second interview, he asked two series of questions, the first about whether Rachel Richards was asleep at the time of her death. At first, May said, Scott Richards said she was “restless,” but then continued to say, “I guess you could say she was asleep.”

May said Richards then told him he went to the hallway to get a baseball bat and returned to the room. May said that he asked Richards what his wife did after the first time he hit here.

“She told him to stop,” May said.

The officer asked what Rachel Richards did after Scott Richards hit her a second time. According to May, Richards said: “(She said) my name and ‘what are you thinking?’”

“He had just lost it,” May said about what Richards told him. “He had just snapped.”

May also asked Richards if there were violence in their relationship before that day. Richards said no, since Rachel Richards was in a previous abusive relationship.

Scott Richards told May he “treated her with as much respect as he could (...) and he just didn’t know what happened that day,” May said.

Andrews questioned both officers repeatedly, asking if Richards ever said he was in pain, whether they asked about what effect the drugs would have on Richards, whether they knew he was taking medication, whether they read Richards his rights and whether Richards ever asked for a lawyer.

The officers said they knew he was taking medication but did not know what effect the drugs had on Richards.

“He did not indicate he wanted a lawyer,” LaBarge said.

The trial is expected to continue today at 9 a.m.

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