Ricci's death makes case harder to solve


Published: Sunday, September 1, 2002 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, August 31, 2002 at 11:40 p.m.
SALT LAKE CITY - Detectives investigating the kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart lost their best lead with the death of the family's former handyman, a potential suspect in the 14-year-old's disappearance.
The girl's father is holding out hope that other people who knew Richard Ricci will now be willing to talk, but police fear Ricci's death will only make it harder to find Elizabeth or ever know what happened to her.
"What he knows goes with him," police Capt. Scott Atkinson said. "With Ricci gone, there will be no more opportunity to question him about things left unsaid or things he said that we didn't believe."
Ricci, 48, died at a hospital Friday, three days after suffering from a brain hemorrhage and collapsing in his jail cell, doctors said.
The hemorrhage left him with irreversible brain injuries, and his family decided to take him off life support Friday, Dr. Richard Sperry said.
Authorities, meanwhile, are no closer to finding Elizabeth than they were June 5, when the girl was taken at gunpoint from her bedroom in an affluent Salt Lake City neighborhood. Her younger sister was in the room with her that night and is the only known witness.
Ricci, a felon with a long prison record, once worked in the Smart home as a handyman. He had been charged with stealing items from the house, but investigators had never been able to charge him with the kidnapping.
Though they had no proof Ricci was involved, detectives still weren't satisfied with Ricci's answers to their questions.
"He has told us things we don't believe are true," Dinse said. "We also have a lot of information about him, about his relationship to the family."
Ed Smart, Elizabeth's father, has said he never would have hired Ricci if he'd known about the man's criminal past, which included convictions for burglary and assaulting a police officer. Ricci maintained his innocence throughout the investigation.
In late June, he said he had given 26 hours of police interviews, taken polygraph tests, given a blood sample and surrendered the impounded Jeep Ed Smart gave him as payment for work. Police have refused to say what they found.
Ricci was jailed on a parole violation when he suffered the brain hemorrhage.
There was no indication of foul play, and no suicide note was found in Ricci's jail cell. Doctors tried to save him Tuesday with surgery to remove a blood clot in his brain and alleviate pressure on his brain stem but said the damage was too severe and he likely would never regain consciousness.
"We believe this turn of events may help because other people who were involved, or people who may know something about Richard, will come forward and tell all," Ed Smart said after learning of Ricci's death.
Earlier that day, the family offered $3,000 rewards for information on who picked up Ricci when he left the Jeep at a repair shop on June 8, three days after the abduction, and information regarding a July 24 attempted break-in at the home of Elizabeth's aunt. Other rewards are still unclaimed for information that helps find Elizabeth or her kidnapper.
"The investigation is not over," said Smart family spokesman Chris Thomas. "There are too many unanswered questions."
Ricci's wife of six months has said her husband was at home in bed on the night Elizabeth was taken.
In a statement a few hours after she asked doctors to allow him to die, Angela Ricci said: "I know that the world will never know the Richard that his family and I knew, but I will always remember him as a kind and gentle man, with a great sense of humor who was a loving husband to me."

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