Grief book author's murder charge tangled in estate dispute

This photo provided by shows Kouri Richins at the KPCW studio in Park City, Utah, April 12, 2023. Richins was arrested on Monday, May 8, in Utah and is accused in charging documents of poisoning her husband with a lethal dose of fentanyl at their home in Kamas, a small mountain town near Park City. ( via AP)

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A children's book author who prosecutors say killed her husband has been battling with his relatives over the family estate since his death last year, court documents show.

Kouri Richins, 33, is accused of poisoning her husband with a lethal dose of fentanyl at their home in a small mountain town near Park City, according to charging documents.

The murder charges filed this week come months after Richins self-published “Are you with me?” — an illustrated storybook chronicling a young boy who wonders how his deceased father remains a presence in his life.

Prosecutors allege Richins called authorities in the middle of the night in March 2022 to report that her husband, Eric Richins, was “cold to the touch.” She told officers she had made her husband a mixed drink to celebrate him selling a multimillion-dollar home. She then went to soothe one of their children to sleep in the next bedroom. When she returned, she found her husband unresponsive, and she called 911, according to prosecutors.

A medical examiner later found five times the lethal dose of fentanyl in his system.

In addition to the murder charge, Richins also faces charges involving the alleged possession of GHB — a narcolepsy drug frequently used in recreational settings, including at dance clubs.

The charges are based on officers’ interactions with Richins that night and the account of an “unnamed acquaintance” who claims to have sold her the fentanyl. The acquaintance told investigators they sold Richins the opioid hydrocodone once and fentanyl twice, in February and March 2022.

The charging documents allege Richins deleted text messages from the night of her husband’s death before handing her phone over to investigators and may have tried to poison her husband on Valentine’s Day, a month before his death.

“Shortly after their dinner, Eric became very ill. ... Eric told a friend that he thought his wife was trying to poison him,” investigators wrote, referring to the Valentine's Day incident.

Richins’ attorney, Skye Lazaro, declined to comment on the charges. The Utah Department of Child Protective Services did not respond to questions about where the children are while their mother is held without bail.

In Richins’ book, the boy wonders if his father, who has died, notices his goals at a soccer game, his nerves on the first day of school or the presents he found under a Christmas tree.

“Yes, I am with you,” an angel wing-clad father figure wearing a trucker hat responds. “I am with you when you scored that goal. ... I am with you when you walk the halls. ... I'm here and we're together.”

Months before her arrest, Richins told news outlets that she decided to write “Are you with me?” after her husband unexpectedly died last year, leaving her widowed and raising three boys. She said she looked for materials for children on grieving loved ones and found few resources, so decided to create her own. She planned to write sequels.

In search warrants obtained by and KPCW radio, family members interviewed by investigators indicate that Eric Richins was seeking to divorce Kouri and had recently changed his will and life insurance policy. One of Richins' sisters told officers that Eric had long suspected his wife of attempting to poison him, including on a vacation to Greece several years ago. The warrants describe conflict between the couple over a $2 million home that Kouri purchased with the aim to resell it quickly despite the objections from her husband based on the price.

Civil court filings that were submitted in different cases after Eric Richins' death outline how the suspicious circumstances surrounding his death have become entangled with questions over his assets and an estate held in a trust and managed by his sister. Richins has fought with members of her deceased husband’s family since the day after his death in March 2022, the documents show.

Richins and her sister-in-law had a fight the day after Eric’s death at the family home, according to the documents. She subsequently sued for more than $3.6 million and to remove Katie Richins-Benson as trustee, arguing that a prenuptial agreement she and her husband signed entitled her to his assets if he died before they divorced.

It remains unclear how the estate dispute will be affected by the murder and drug possession charges against Richins. Utah law prohibits those convicted of homicide from profiting from their crime.