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Continued: Two doctors at odds over risk posed by Eden Prairie dad who killed son

  • Article by: ABBY SIMONS , Star Tribune
  • Last update: February 15, 2012 - 10:43 AM

Two starkly different pictures of Randel Richardson emerged Tuesday as medical experts testified whether the man who drowned his infant son should ever be able to rejoin society.

For Dr. Michael Farnsworth, a psychiatrist testifying for Richardson, medication and therapy have restored him to the man he used to be. Richardson feels remorse about what happened and with medication and proper supervision, he should be able to make the transition.

For Dr. Bruce Renken, a court-appointed psychologist, there is still a risk that Richardson could relapse into the psychotic state that led him to hold 6-month-old Rowan under a foot of water in a laundry tub until he stopped moving.

So went the second day of a trial to determine if Richardson, 36, a Cargill supply chain analyst, should be committed indefinitely as mentally ill and dangerous. It followed wrenching testimony Monday by Richardson and his wife, Karen, about how they struggled to find help for Richardson during a six-month bout with delusions and depression that culminated on the afternoon of July 31, 2010, when he drowned the baby in the family's Eden Prairie home. He was found not guilty of first-degree murder by reason of mental illness. The Hennepin County attorney later petitioned to have him committed indefinitely at the Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter, Minn., where he is currently held.

Richardson's attorney, Chris Petros, is arguing that Richardson should be placed in a less-restrictive six-month commitment, with possible extensions, before he transitions back into society. District Judge Jay Quam will determine Richardson's future after the trial.

"He has a history of mental illness, but he is in remission and is not mentally ill today," Farnsworth testified Tuesday. He added that many of the issues Richardson must face, including the scorn from society for killing his son and stigma associated with mental illness, can be dealt with only outside an institution. Even without medication, Farnsworth testified, Richardson's odds of relapse are about 50 percent. Should he stay on his regimen of an anti-psychotic and antidepressant, those odds are much lower.

Renken countered that the seriousness of Richardson's act could result in a dangerous relapse if he stopped taking his medication.

"There's not a high risk, but a substantial risk given the episode that unfolded and the way it could unfold," Renken testified. "There is an element of danger there and it could become dangerous in an unpredictable way."

'Major concerns'

The Richardsons each took the stand Monday to testify that they actively tried to get Richardson help before Rowan's death. Fear of taking medication, and later the inability to get in to see a psychiatrist quickly, eventually led them to a family doctor who told Richardson it was OK to stop taking an antipsychotic medication because he did not like the side effects. About two weeks later, Karen left Richardson with their son during a trip to the grocery store. During a delusion in which he feared he could not provide for his son, Richardson drowned the boy. The couple's two older children were with their grandparents.

Before that incident, Richardson had expressed some suicidal thoughts, but not homicidal, Farnsworth testified. His killing of Rowan stemmed from the delusion that he was a failure to his family and could no longer provide for them.

"In a sort of twisted, loving way, to spare that baby the pain was to have it die," Farnsworth testified. "In a bizarre extension of his delusion, he wanted to alleviate the suffering of his family."

The delusions continued, Richardson testified Monday, in the Hennepin County jail shortly after his arrest when he begged to be let out because he believed water was rising in the main area and endangering babies there. He was placed on Risperdal, an antipsychotic, and Celexa, an antidepressant, and remains on both drugs today.

Farnsworth said a relapse is unlikely, but not impossible.

"I can't rule that out," Farnsworth said. "But I don't see it as a high probability."

No history of mental illness

Both experts agreed that Richardson's case was atypical, in that before 2010, he had no history of mental illness, no unstable home life and was not a substance abuser. They also agreed that Richardson is currently not showing signs of mental illness. However, Renken said that although Richardson appears to be taking his medication, it may not be enough to avoid commitment.

During questioning, Assistant Hennepin County Attorney George Widseth asked Renken whether stresses such as family, returning to his job and reconciling his relationship with his wife could have an impact on his mental health.

"Would you be concerned if Mr. Richardson would be released into the community with so many variables in place?" Widseth asked.

"Yes." Renken replied. "Those are major concerns."

Renken is expected to continue testifying Feb. 22. Psychologist Dr. James Alsdurf will testify on behalf of the Hennepin County attorney. During Richardson's criminal case, Farnsworth examined Richardson for prosecution, while Alsdurf did so for the defense. The two have now switched roles for the civil commitment trial.

Abby Simons • 612-673-4921

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  • Randel Richardson Courtesy of the Hennepin County Sheriff

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