TS - Kesser attempts suicide at Humboldt County jail

☛ TS Kesser attempts suicide at Humboldt County jai
Richard Craig Kesser, a former Fortuna resident who spent more than 17 years behind bars for the murder of his estranged wife in 1991, hanged himself in his jail cell early Tuesday morning.

The 47-year-old inmate was transported to St. Joseph Hospital and placed on life support, where he remained in critical condition throughout the day Tuesday, hospital staff reported.

The Humboldt County Sheriff's Office reported that at around 12:15 a.m. Tuesday, a correctional officer found an inmate hanging in his cell. The officer quickly cut the inmate down and began resuscitation efforts shortly before medical staff responded and began CPR.

The Sheriff's Office has so far declined to disclose the identity of the inmate. However, Humboldt County District Attorney Paul Gallegos, who led prosecution against Kesser during the past three years, confirmed the inmate was Kesser.

During an interview in late November, Kesser said he had been taking medication for depression, but was hopeful about his future after accepting a plea agreement offered by the District Attorney's Office.

”I suffer from depression from time to time,” he said. “I have a whole bunch of hopes. I'm trying to go home now, after 17 years ... hopefully someday I can get back to being a productive member of society.”

During that interview, Kesser also spoke about his 1991 plot to murder his wife, which had been schemed with his then-girlfriend Jennifer Leahy, who has since been released from jail.

The couple -- who had been dating for about four months at the time -- hired Stephen Duane Chiara for the hit. According to court documents, the three mapped out plans for the murder over the course of several weeks.

On Nov. 26, 1991, Mary Kesser was stabbed to death in her N Street home.

Authorities long suspected the motive was Mary Kesser's $50,000 life insurance policy. In 1992, a panel of jurors agreed, finding Richard Kesser, Leahy and Chiara guilty of first-degree murder.

The three were sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Then, after 14 years behind bars at Pelican Bay State Prison, Richard Kesser and Leahy's verdicts were narrowly overturned by a panel of judges in the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, on the grounds that former Humboldt County Deputy District Attorney Worth Dikeman had stricken three American Indians from the jury pool because of their race.

That decision led to Richard Kesser's return to the Humboldt County jail on Dec. 5, 2006.

In 2008, a plea agreement was struck between Richard Kesser and the District Attorney's Office, which compelled Richard Kesser to issue a truthful, polygraphed statement about the events that led to his former wife's murder. That agreement stipulated that if he truthfully completed the polygraph test, he would receive a second degree murder sentence, reducing his possible sentence from 25-years to life to 15-years to life.

Richard Kesser failed his first test in August. But in September, those results were thrown out by a Humboldt County Superior Court judge, who ruled the examiner used inadmissible techniques in the test.

The second test was cut short after Richard Kesser told the examiner he had been taking medication for depression.
A judge allowed Richard Kesser to take a third test in late November, but those results have not yet been disclosed by his attorney Glenn Brown.

Brown was unavailable for comment Tuesday.

”I was hopeful the first time -- I wanted to (pass) the first time,” Richard Kesser said the week before his third test. “Anybody who's lived in this building (the jail) for two years doesn't want to be here that long.”

According to Gallegos, Richard Kesser left a suicide note inside his cell. However, the contents of that note have not been released.

Sean Garmire can be reached at 441-0514 or sgarmire@times-standard.com.

Sean Garmire/The Times-Standard
Posted: 12/03/2008 01:21:18 AM PST