"He said he had been taking Abilify, Prozac and Lexapro. The medications are used to treat schizophrenia, depression and anxiety."
Home Depot attack followed by Mexican cellmate's slaying
By Andy Furillo
Published: Sunday, Feb. 6, 2011 – 12:00 am | Page 1A
Richard Russell Harden chased the woman down at the Home Depot on Folsom Boulevard and bashed her three times with a hammer, sending her to the hospital with injuries to her back, neck and shoulder, according to prosecutors.
When the store's security team tackled him to the ground, according to court testimony, Harden indicated race was the motive behind his hammer-wielding assault on Feb. 16, 2009.
"You should let me go," Harden said after his attack on Geraldine Leon-Guerrero, according to testimony at his Sacramento Superior Court preliminary hearing. "They come over the border and take all of our jobs."
Following the attack, Sacramento police escorted Harden to the downtown jail, where sheriff's deputies put him in a cell with an illegal immigrant from Mexico.
While the fast-acting Home Depot security team minimized the damage in the hammer assault, nobody was around to take Harden down the next day when, according to authorities, he beat his Mexican cellmate to death and strangled him with a T-shirt.
Harden, 46, now faces a murder trial April 11 in the death of Evaristo Ramirez, a 25-year-old day laborer who had been in jail for a day after being arrested for drunken driving.
Prosecutors also charged Harden in a second count with assault with a deadly weapon on Leon-Guerrero. She has since recovered and is back at work.
When the trial ends, Ramirez's survivors will press a wrongful death suit they have filed against the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department, the county, Harden and six deputies on the job the day of the death.
"Somebody dropped the ball," said Jesse Ortiz, the Sacramento lawyer representing the Ramirez family. "My understanding is they were made aware in the jail of exactly why Mr. Harden was in custody – because he specifically attacked a Mexican woman at the Home Depot. The last thing that should have happened was to house him with another Mexican kid."
Lawyer: Client 'mentally ill'
Sheriff's spokesman Sgt. Tim Curran said his department won't comment on the pending cases. Deputy District Attorney Anthony Ortiz – Jesse's brother and the prosecutor on the murder case – also declined to comment. John A. Lavra, a private attorney for the county, did not return phone calls.
Harden's lawyer, John Jackson of Visalia, said his client denies saying anything about how "they" cross the border to take "our jobs." It's a remark Harden allegedly made to the Home Depot security man who stopped the assault, according to a police officer's testimony at Harden's preliminary hearing in 2009.
Jackson said Harden suffers from long-standing psychiatric disorders. Harden, he said, "has Hispanic friends" and is not a racist.
"My client was mentally ill," the lawyer said. "It's our position the Sheriff's Department should have classified him as being mentally ill. Instead, they put him in a general population sort of area."
Harden declined to be interviewed. In a writ he filed in a failed bid to get out of jail, he wrote of his behavior in the Home Depot and afterward, "I think I was having a severe reaction to the medication that I was prescribed."
He said he had been taking Abilify, Prozac and Lexapro. The medications are used to treat schizophrenia, depression and anxiety.
"I'm not sure I was seen by a doctor after arriving in jail," he said in the writ application.
Not known as a racist
At the time of his arrest, Harden was living in the town of Lemoore in the southern San Joaquin Valley. A Navy reservist, he worked as a scuba diver at the Aviation Survival Training Center at Lemoore Naval Air Station, a base spokeswoman said.
At the center, Navy pilots in simulated cockpits are dropped into 15 feet of water and forced to scramble to the surface, with divers on hand to rescue them if they can't make it out.
Harden lived in a racially mixed, middle-class neighborhood with large neatly trimmed yards. On a recent afternoon, kids of various ethnicities smiled and talked as they walked home from the school down the block from Harden's home.
Harden's wife filed for divorce after his arrest. Two relatives contacted about this story said the family won't be making any comment.
Friends of the 5-foot-9, 210-pound weight-lifting, motorcycle-riding defendant said they had seen no indications of Harden harboring anger toward Mexicans.
"Never," said Leonard Milligan, the former director of the aviation training center. "I can guarantee you that if I did, I'd have fired him on the spot. It just wouldn't happen."
Milligan hired Harden in 1993 and stayed friends afterward. People who didn't particularly care for Harden – including a Mexican American woman who called him a "jerk" – also said they didn't think he was a racist.
Jessica LaBoy said Harden rented a house to her and her Mexican American husband in 2005. She said it seemed to her that Harden was "always drunk." She said she became angry when he kicked her family out of their house after his wife kicked him out of his.
Still, LaBoy said, Harden never played the race card. "He was a jerk, but not a racist jerk," LaBoy said.
Kings County Superior Court records indicate Harden hit a rough patch in 2007. He pleaded out that year to drunken driving. The next year, police arrested him for battery on his wife. The case was pending when he got in trouble in Sacramento.
Friend noticed changes
Pat Mundy, a Lemoore police sergeant and friend of Harden
9;s through church, said Harden's personality seemed to change about six months before the December 2008 wife-beating arrest.
Before that, Harden "had a real business mind about him," Mundy said. "I was talking about buying some property and he started throwing out all sorts of financial figures. He said he had this rental and that rental. He obviously had some sense about him to do that stuff. He had a nice house, a nice truck."
Harden had relatives in Sonoma County, and was probably on his way back from there, friends said, when he wound up in the Sacramento region.
He hit the radar with local authorities three days before the Home Depot attack when Yolo County deputies arrested him on suspicion of trespassing at a Capay Valley bed and breakfast.
Wet and disheveled, Harden told the responding deputy he knew only that he was "somewhere in the valley," according to a Sacramento sheriff's search warrant affidavit. He said he couldn't remember the last time he'd eaten.
Yolo County authorities placed Harden under a 72-hour mental health hold. It expired the day of the Home Depot attack.
"I just freaked out for some reason," Harden wrote in his writ application. "I was on my way home and just ended up here … I never do anything like that. I'm usually not violent."
Harden's murder case languished when he pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. Three doctors have since examined him. Those records are sealed, but Harden's lawyer said one psychiatrist concluded the defendant was insane.
John Jackson, the defense attorney, has subpoenaed the Sheriff's Department's mental health assessments, internal affairs reports and other records to find out how Harden was handled in jail.
Sheriff's officials refused to turn over documents until ordered by the court. They since have released some of the information Jackson wanted but "not all the documents we need," the lawyer said. He said he'll press for the rest at trial.
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