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By TRISTAN SCOTT of the Missoulian
Hours before the bloodshed, Mike Meadows and Kenny Richard called a friend’s cell phone and left a spirited, drunken message, each voice rising to outshine the other’s boisterous salutations.
“They sounded pretty messed up on the message, but, you know, happy,” recalls Brandon Mageli, who last summer shared an apartment with Meadows in Jackson, Wyo., and lived three doors down the hall from Richard. “They just said, ‘Hey, we miss you.’ ”
Richard, 22, and Meadows, 31, crossed paths in Wyoming by way of casual happenstance, and became fast friends through an impulsive goodwill typical of young men navigating wide-open futures. After their worlds converged, the men followed course to Missoula, to work and attend college.
But both lives lurched to a violent impasse in the early morning hours of Feb. 21, when Richard allegedly stabbed Meadows, wrapped his lifeless body in a blanket and loaded him into the trunk of his station wagon, trailing blood along the way.
According to charging papers, Richard has admitted as much to detectives who followed the trail of blood, but says he acted in self-defense, and that Meadows came at him with a pocket knife. Although Richard has a broken arm and cuts on his chest and hands to support those claims, he remains jailed on a half-million-dollar bail, mostly because of the extent of Richard’s efforts to hide his friend’s body.
“This defendant went to great lengths to attempt to cover up his actions,” said Deputy Missoula County Attorney Andrew Paul. “He took the body and drove 30 miles west along the river. He dumped the body of his friend into the river, drove 30 miles back and then attempted to clean up the blood that had leaked from the body as he was dragging it to his car.”
Cyril Kenneth Richard III, known to friends as Kenny, faces felony charges of deliberate homicide and evidence tampering in Missoula, and apparently fell on hard times while living in Jackson.
In 2005, Richard seriously injured himself after rolling his car and was charged with drunken driving, said Deputy Teton County Attorney Nicole Krieger.
During the summer of 2007, Richard lived in the same condominiums as Meadows and Mageli, and the group of friends soon became inseparable.
The DUI charge was eventually reduced to reckless driving, Krieger said. But toward the end of the summer, Richard was arrested again for DUI, and pleaded guilty to the charge. A judge ordered him to attend an in-patient treatment facility in Idaho.
Mageli, who was riding in Richard’s car when he was arrested the second time, said his friend had been taking numerous painkillers and anti-depressants throughout the night and during the summer.
“Basically, any pill he could find that was an anti-depressant or a painkiller, Kenny was on over the summer,” Mageli said. “He cried in my arms for hours after that because he had gotten hooked on pills.”
Out of concern for his friend, Mageli helped Richard research colleges in Montana. After completing the court-ordered treatment last fall, Richard moved to Missoula to study business management at the University of Montana. He found a job at Sports Authority on Reserve Street and lived alone at the Copper Run Apartments off Mullan Road.
Early last summer, Meadows abandoned the art and design courses he was taking through adult education in the Oakland area of California, and hit the road for Jackson, where his brother found him a construction job, according to Meadows’ father, Barney.
“I was trying to keep him in school in California because, when it comes to art, he is just fabulous,” Barney said. “He didn’t have a driver’s license, but his brother said he could get him a job in Jackson, and Mike thought he would try and build a stronger relationship with his brother.”
Barney said his son struggled through his 20s due to fetal alcohol syndrome, and had trouble maintaining a steady job.
“He’s slower than most people his age because of his FAS, and he’s always gone in and out of jobs,” he said.
But the construction gig in Jackson worked out for Meadows, and he enjoyed living with Mageli and hanging out with Richard at night and on the weekends. When the construction company announced it would branch out into Montana this spring, Meadows decided he would follow Richard to Missoula and find a part-time job for a month or so before construction season.
Barney last talked to his son on Christmas, and said he was excited to “see America.”
Meadows had been living in Richard’s apartment for several weeks, turning in job applications at gas stations and fast food restaurants in the area.
On Wednesday night, Feb. 20, Richard and Meadows were hanging out at Richard’s apartment, drinking and watching basketball on television. The men eventually moved to a local bowling alley and continued drinking, then bought some beer at a store and headed back to Richard’s apartment, according to the charging papers.
At some point, Richard apparently became angry because Meadows was unemployed and had not been pitching in for rent or other living expenses, and an argument ensued. Richard told detectives the argument grew heated, and Meadows lunged at him with a pocket knife. Richard was able to take the knife away from his friend, he told police, but Meadows again lunged at him, this time while unarmed, and Richard stabbed him in the abdomen in self-defense.
“I don’t believe that story because Mike, as anyone who knew him will tell you, was a very passive person,” Barney said.
Mageli still can’t imagine how a night of jubilant drinking could have escalated to bloodshed.
“I know the kid was having some problems over the summer, but I don’t know what caused him to do this,” Mageli said of Richard.
Meadows’ body still has not been recovered from the Clark Fork River, and Barney is hanging onto some hope that his son might turn up alive. But understanding that improbability, he mostly just feels his son’s loneliness.
“Mike just hasn’t been up there long enough for anyone to really know him,” said Barney, who never met Richard. “His big passions were music and girls. And he loved to scratch records.”
All in all, he said, “Mike has had a pretty hard life.”