FORT WALTON BEACH — Long years of torment torment for the family of Cordell Richards ended Monday when Ronald Bell and Kristel Maestas were each resentenced to life in prison for his 1999 kidnap and murder.
In issuing his ruling, Circuit Court Judge William Stone notified both defendants that he had considered all the relevant factors in each of their cases, including their youth at the time and “all evidence relating to the offense.”
A former airman, the 31-year-old Richards had been missing for just over a month when, on March 4, 1999, a 12-year-old boy playing on an undeveloped lot in the Parish Pointe subdivision discovered his badly decomposed body.
Richards’ remains were found chained to a tree and burned. Assistant State Attorney Bobby Elmore would later tell a jury that just enough of the man’s fingerprints remained to allow for identification. Investigators learned that he had been horribly tortured for a full day before his death.
The resentencing of the pair, who killed Richards when Bell was 17 and Maestas 16, was ordered following a 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court originally published on June 23, 2012. Justices ruled at that time that mandatory life sentences without parole for juveniles were unconstitutional.
“The only thing I can say is my family and I are still just in shock we had to go through this in court, Reanna Richards, Richards daughter, said after Monday’s hearing. “I thank God the judge found the wisdom to rule the way he did.”
Both Bell and Maestas, who are now in their 30s and have spent more than half of their lives in prison, appeared in court for their sentencing.
Bell showed no emotion as Stone re-sentenced not only to life in prison for one count of first degree murder, but also to a consecutive live sentence for kidnapping with a weapon.
Maestas, however, openly wept during the proceedings. She will serve life in prison for the killing of Richards and 30 years consecutive to that for her role in the kidnapping, Stone said.
Both will be eligible for a hearing on the kidnapping charges for which they were sentenced next year, at the 20-year anniversary of their being sentenced.
What would become two days of torture began on Feb. 2 when Bell, angered by sexual advances Richards had made toward Maestas and her friend, Renee Lincks, attacked him with a baseball bat.
The attack began at Richards’ apartment on Marshall Court, off Wright Parkway in Fort Walton Beach. After beating the victim severely enough to break bones, Bell, Maestas and Lincks tied him up and took him out to the Waterford Estates subdivision in Parrish Point, where they chained him to a tree.
Bell again beat Richards with the bat, at one time proclaiming himself “Babe Ruth” as he wound up to club his helpless victim, reports from the time said. Bell poured an accelerant on Richards and Maestas, according to reports, lit him on fire.
After leaving him to die, the threesome returned Feb. 3 to find Richards somehow still alive and trying to call for help. They went to a store, bought a meat cleaver, and cut his throat, then returned the item to Target for a refund.
Lincks, who was 15 at the time of the killing, pleaded no contest to manslaughter and false imprisonment and received a sentence of no longer than 15 years for testifying against Bell and Maestas. She was released from prison in 2012.
Bell was originally sentenced to die for his role in the crime, but in 2002 the Florida Supreme Court revoked the death penalty, stating that Circuit Court Judge Thomas Remington didn't properly consider Bell's young age at the time the crime was committed.
Stone has now resentenced four of six youthful Okaloosa County offenders impacted by the 2012 Supreme Court ruling. Sentencing hearings in the cases of Kyle Walling and Tyree Washington are still being scheduled.
Walling and Washington were convicted of first degree murder in the shooting death of Chrisopher Pitcock, who was gunned down by a third man, Timothy Chavers, during a robbery attempt. Walling and Washington were 16 at the time of the fatal 2010 shooting. Chavers, who was 17, has already been resentenced to life in prison. Christopher Pitcock was also 17 on the day he was killed.