Victoria man pleads guilty to capital murder, receives life in prison
Beverly Shands held up a large photograph of her daughter, a blonde 17-year-old who wanted to be a veterinarian and who loved to make people smile.
"This is my baby. ... This is what she looked like," the distraught mother said Friday morning to a man dressed in a yellow jumpsuit.
Moments before, photos were spread across the center table of a downtown Victoria courtroom, depicting her daughter, Cynthia Cole Shands, as a victim of more than 30 stab wounds, strangulation and blunt force trauma to her head.
Tyrel Richards, a 22-year-old Victoria man who was dating the victim's sister, pleaded guilty Friday to Cynthia Shands' March 3, 2012, murder.
Because sexual assault was suspected, he was charged and pleaded guilty to capital murder. He received life in prison without the possibility of parole or appeal.
The state originally sought the death penalty and was prepared to call about 500 potential jurors to the courthouse March 17.
Criminal District Attorney Stephen Tyler had Richards stipulate to countless pieces of evidence before concluding the hourlong hearing to ensure there would not be "buyers' remorse."
First, he went over a March 5 note sent by Richards about the plea deal. Richards indicated he wanted to avoid a trial to avoid causing the victim's family more pain.
"The reason I'm asking that is so you can say that on the record and to establish at least at this time, you know the difference between right and wrong," Tyler said.
"Yes, sir," Richards replied, appearing calm.
One of the main issues of the case centered on a bite mark on the back of the victim's neck that Tyler described as a "time stamp."
While Tyler and a medical examiner who testified in a pretrial motions hearing thought Richards bit her before her death, another expert was expected to testify that the bite was inflicted after her death.
Tyler thought the bite mark showed Richards sexually assaulted Shands before killing her at her home in the 100 block of North Cameron Street.
Also admitted into evidence were transcripts of recorded interviews Richards had with police and jail phone calls he made to friends and family. In both, Richards was forthcoming about his actions and said he had had homicidal thoughts for a long time.
"The fact that I only killed one person is amazing," Richards said to one person over the phone.
And when another friend asked what Shands did to upset him, he replied, "Actually, nothing."
"I view Tyrel Richards as a present and future danger," Tyler said after the sentence was handed down. "How best can I protect the public from Tyrel Richards? Life without parole isn't perfect, but it gets me a long ways there."
Richards' attorney, Elliott Costas, said he hoped the families would find peace.
Richards was trying to kick his addiction to synthetic drugs at the time of the murder.
"The case highlights the danger and destructiveness of synthetic drugs, especially among young people," Costas said.
Beverly Shands clutched some tissues as she delivered her victim impact statement. She told Richards she couldn't forgive him but couldn't hate him either. He is the father of her grandchildren.
"There is a void in our hearts that will never be filled," she said. "We think about everything she'll never get to do in her life, and we cry."
Afterward, the mother said she was OK with the plea deal "as long as he couldn't do this to anyone else."
She remembered a man coming to her daughter's funeral.
"He said he'd go to Whataburger (where Shands worked) every day, and she'd make him smile. ... She impacted a lot of lives in the short time that she had," Shands said.
Defense attorney James "Jim" Beeler assisted. Judge Stephen Williams presided over the case.