Mum appeals sentence for arranging hitman to come after ex-husband

It was a bizarre encounter in an otherwise mundane bowling club carpark.

Mum Nicole Richards shared her grievances about her ex-husband with a man she met through a friend. He claimed his cousin was a hitman who could orchestrate a violent revenge, for a cost of $50,000.

“I don’t have that kind of money,” she told the man in the Cabarita Beach Bowls and Sports Club in northeastern New South Wales, so the pair discussed a possible “friend’s discount”.

These facts were outlined in the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal on Monday, where Ms Richards sought to downgrade her sentence for soliciting the kidnapping of her ex-husband.

The facts state that over two hours on August 12, 2021, the pair discussed the weapon that would be used if she were to get the money, whether she wanted her ex dead or seriously hurt and just how the hitman would carry out the act.

The man asked: “You want him shot?” and was confused about whether she wanted the gun to be loaded, the court heard. No money was exchanged and the pair went their separate ways.

But little did Richards know, the man was far from the cousin of a hitman. He was an undercover cop.

Police-intercepted phone calls found Richards discussed this arrangement with a family member following the car park meeting.

Nothing much happened for two months, until Richards was arrested at a Pottsville home and charged over the alleged plot to injure “and possibly kill” her former husband.

Richards pleaded guilty to one count of soliciting a person to kidnap, detain and threaten with the intention to pervert the course of justice and in April last year and was sentenced to three years and three months in prison with a two-year non-parole period.

Now, her legal team has appealed her sentence, arguing it was manifestly excessive and did not consider her mental health issues, which included post traumatic stress disorder and alcoholism.

At the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal, Richards’ lawyer told the court her client did not “advance” her agreement and never expressed clear intent to kill her ex-husband.

“One would normally expect the payment of money, or the phone call in relation to further arrangements and the like. And none of those things occurred,” she said.

“The best that could be said is that she was heard discussing a weapon … But it’s quite clear, she really doesn’t have a great idea here about what she wants (or) how it’s going to be achieved”.

The lawyer said they were “all thought bubbles that are floated towards the undercover operative, and he is pointing out bits of it, which really don’t make sense”.

“And she, in fact, is just scouting these things, all in a concept, which bear very little rationality”.

Richards’ lawyer said she first told the undercover cop she wanted her husband “dribbling and hurt significantly” and then discussed “getting a false address”.

The lawyer said Ms Richards told the man she “doesn’t have the manpower” to carry out the job, but also “doesn’t want him killed because he’s a father”.

The court heard Ms Richards struggled with alcohol abuse at the time of the offence.

On the day of the crime, she drank four glasses of wine before speaking with the undercover officer. She told him she had to go out for lunch and organised to meet him in the carpark again at 3pm, the court was told.

The “irrationality” of her planning was “probably was more likely than not part and parcel of her mental condition,” her lawyer argued.

But the crown prosecutor submitted the arrangement was not irrational and Richards discussed it further with another person in the days following the car park meet up.

“It is the crown’s case that the applicant’s conduct should not and cannot be excused lightly,” the prosecutor said.

“This particular act is extremely serious. The sentence imposed … was simply not manifestly excessive”.

Justice Julie Ward, Justice David Davies and Justice Natalie Adams reserved their judgment for a later date.

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