Even if enough voters choose Leonard J. Richards as the DFL candidate for U.S. Senate, there’s no way he will ever get to take the oath of office and begin a six-year term.
Richards is already serving a lifetime term. In Stillwater prison. For murder. Make that two murders.
Yes, it is legal in Minnesota for felons to run for office, so long as it is a federal seat. Nobody knows that better than Richards, who is trying to wrest the party nod away from incumbent Amy Klobuchar.
Now 75 years old and sporting Department of Corrections ID No. 149837, Richards has run for federal office several times — without a victory — since his imprisonment, most recently when he sought the seat that U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer now holds.
In 1992, Richards ran in the DFL primary for the Eighth Congressional District seat and received more than 14,500 votes. He ran for the U.S. Senate in the DFL primary in 1994, winning more than 4,000 votes.
Minnesota law does not permit inmates to run for a state-level office.
Richards was convicted of murder twice in Hennepin County for the 1982 slaying of his half-sister, May Wilson, and the 1987 shooting death of his attorney, Robert Stratton. His life sentence imposed nearly 30 years ago offers no parole.
Stratton’s sister told the Star Tribune that she contacted the Minnesota Secretary of State’s Office, and “they were aware of Richards’ conviction and could do nothing to keep him off the ballot.”
When Stratton asked for an explanation, Bert Black, a legal adviser for the Secretary of State’s Office, said in an e-mail reply that despite the “unspeakable acts ... Richards is allowed to run for federal office because the courts have ruled that we may not prohibit a felon, even one still serving a sentence, from filing an affidavit of candidacy. ... The only valid requirements are that you be of a certain age and that you live in the state on Election Day, essentially.”
Richards did not respond to a message Thursday seeking an interview.
Stratton said she hopes all citizens learn of Richards’ past “so people don’t vote for him. I know he won’t win against Amy Klobuchar, but even one vote for this murderer is too many.”
She added that she intends to “appeal to our federal representatives to change the requirements for running in federal elections.”