THE CALIFORNIA MEDICAL FACILITY — a nearly 2,300-man prison in Vacaville, California — is tucked between dry hills and a tidy neighborhood of modest homes and well-manicured baseball diamonds in the two public parks that abut the property. The cheers of Little League spectators rise over the oleander bushes, past rows of stately palm trees, and through the razor wire fencing around the prison. The sounds are a tantalizing — if not torturous — reminder of how close, and yet inaccessible, the real world is from inside the fortified compound.
When he’s working on the roof, six stories up, 65-year-old Bill Richards says he almost feels like he’s part of the real world again — he can see into the hills and the baseball fields. He can pretend, at least for a while, that he lives in one of those tidy little houses. Being in prison, he says, is like living on an “alien planet — here’s the one we’re on, here’s the one you’re on.”
Someday he hopes to rejoin the world outside. But for now, Richards is serving a sentence of 25-to-life for murdering his wife, Pamela, in August 1993 — a crime he insists he did not commit. He says he was the victim of a shoddy police investigation, an overzealous prosecution, and, most significantly, questionable forensic evidence. The state used this evidence as conclusive proof that only Richards could have strangled and bludgeoned his wife of 22 years, leaving her half-naked body in the dirt outside a shed on their 5-acre property near Hesperia in California’s High Desert.