MAXIMUM SENTENCE: Armstead given 17 to 21 years for murderPublished 9:41pm Monday, October 14, 2013
A Beaufort County Superior Court judge sentenced Richard Leon Armstead Jr. to 17 to 21 years in prison Monday for the beating death of his girlfriend in 2010.
The 25-year-old Armstead has been jailed since his arrest the day after Miki Michelle Hatcher’s murder, following a standoff with law enforcement at a Greenville apartment complex.
With little fanfare, Judge Wayland Sermons Jr. handed down the judgment, which is at the top of the presumptive range for second-degree murder, as the prosecution had requested earlier in the hearing. The state had already reduced Armstead’s original charge of first-degree murder in a plea deal — Armstead pleaded guilty to the charge Aug. 30, but judgment was continued to Monday, to allow defense attorney Tonza Ruffin to gather information needed to present mitigating factors possibly influencing a sentence.
Ruffin called Dr. Claudia Coleman, a forensic psychologist who evaluated Armstead, to testify about his mental and emotional state before and after Hatcher’s murder. Coleman said Armstead has a 74 IQ and is “significantly below average” developmentally. She said he suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, as well as severe depression.
Coleman, at Ruffin’s prompting, went on to talk about how, at the age of 14, Armstead was given the same evaluation by the state, but his guardian at the time, an 18-year-old sister, would not give her consent for medication. Ruffin described a childhood that was chaotic at best — introduction at a young age to drugs by his drug-addict mother, frequent moves from one place to the next, in school for 30 days, absent for the next 20 days, ongoing physical and emotional abuse, and extreme neglect.
“It was a very destructive environment for a child to be raised in,” Coleman said.
Ruffins indicated it was Armstead’s lack of coping skills and problem-solving ability, combined with his use of drugs and an already volatile domestic relationship, that led to the fight that left Hatcher dead and Armstead hiding out in Greenville before being tracked down.
Coleman described Armstead as one of the few prisoners she’s evaluated in her career who expressed genuine remorse for his crime, an impression reinforced by Armstead’s statement to the Sermons.
“We just had a fight that got out of hand,” Armstead said. “I didn’t intentionally mean for my babies’ mother to die. I didn’t mean for none of this to happen.”
According to the medical examiner’s report, Hatcher died of blunt force trauma to the head. According to Ruffin, the couple had a history of physical altercations and Armstead bears scars — one on his arm, one on his leg — from where Hatcher had stabbed him.
Assistant District Attorney Ray Cameron asked Sermons to not take into account Coleman’s assessment of Armstead during his consideration. Cameron said Armstead’s attempts to “cover it up” and go to a different location show that he understood what he was doing — that he knew right from wrong.
Hatcher’s mother, in a statement to Sermons, said she felt as though she and Hatcher and Armstead’s children have been given a life sentence. The two girls, thought to have witnessed their mother’s death, now live out of state with their grandmother. According to their grandmother, they have had to undergo extensive counseling.
With a prior record level of three, a mitigated sentence for Armstead fell between 10 to 13 years in prison — which is what his defense attorney requested. Sermons said the court would not depart from the presumptive range, however, and sentenced Armstead to the maximum allowed.