‘We’re devastated’: San Jose parents charged with murder in toddler’s fentanyl death

When police arrested Kelly Richardson last week, she was found with drugs, deputy DA says

SAN JOSE, Calif. — She grew up in a lovely Almaden Valley home. She was a West Valley College cheerleader and a San Jose Sharks fan. She rescued kittens for a non-profit organization.

However, when police arrested Kelly Richardson a day before Thanksgiving, they discovered her in possession of the drugs that had turned her life tragic.

Richardson, 28, walked into the Santa Clara County courtroom in shackles with her boyfriend Derek Rayo, 27, on Monday. It was the San Jose couple’s first court appearance to face murder charges in the death of their 19-month-old daughter Winter from a fentanyl overdose — the third South Bay child under the age of two killed by the deadly opioid in six months.

“We’re devastated right now,” Amy Richardson, Richardson’s mother, said in the hallway before entering the courtroom.

Richardson’s parents refused to answer any further questions, instead relying on their daughter’s Facebook page, which features cheerleading photos, Sharks jerseys, and cat rescues, to provide a glimpse into her life before fentanyl took over.

According to court records, Rayo’s upbringing was far from idyllic. He once told cops that he had been using methamphetamine since he was 12 years old. He has a criminal history that includes heroin possession and auto theft, and he was convicted of felony battery in 2016 for assaulting a fellow inmate in county jail.

Richardson and Rayo are the first parents in Santa Clara County to be charged with murder in their child’s fentanyl poisoning death. Superior Court Judge Johnny Cepeda Gogo denied them both bail during their arraignments on Monday, the first step toward a murder trial. They are expected to enter pleas at a hearing scheduled for January 3.

Adrienne Dell, Richardson’s defense attorney, has requested that she undergo a mental health evaluation.

Rayo was in jail on an unrelated charge when prosecutors filed the felony complaint in baby Winter’s death on Nov. 17. Meanwhile, Richardson was arrested on Wednesday. According to Santa Clara County Deputy District Attorney Monroe Tyler, police discovered her in San Jose with drugs and drug paraphernalia.

“It’s evidence of her continued use and her disregard for the danger that she poses to other people,” Tyler told reporters outside the courtroom Monday. “It supports our case in that she’s continuing to use despite these dangerous consequences.”

During Monday’s hearing, Richardson’s parents sat in the back row of the courtroom, catching a glimpse of their daughter, who wore a yellow jail shirt and hung her head for much of the hearing. Rayo, dressed in a red jail shirt, sat behind her.

According to the police department’s statement of facts in the case, Richardson and Rayo awoke to find Winter unresponsive in their bed on the afternoon of Aug. 12. They didn’t call police for another 10 hours, claiming they needed time to grieve before being separated. Rigorous mortis had set in by then, and her lips were blue. When the cops arrived, they discovered fentanyl powder on the nightstand as well as a scraping tool near the baby. Her blood fentanyl levels were 24 times the lethal dose for a child her size. Fentanyl and methamphetamine were also found in blood samples taken from Winter’s parents that day.

Winter, who was born on Christmas Eve 2021, joined a grim and growing list of Bay Area youth who were taken by fentanyl while in their parents’ care. Kristofer Ferreyra, 23, died in Fremont in October, and his mother, Sophia Gastelum-Vera, 26, is charged with involuntary manslaughter and felony child abuse. Phoenix Castro, a 3-month-old baby from San Jose, died in May, and her father, David Castro, has been charged with felony child endangerment. Emily De La Cerda, Phoenix’s mother, died of an overdose four months after her baby died.

In each case, police discovered fentanyl in the homes. In the case of baby Phoenix, fentanyl powder was discovered on the infant’s pink flowered onesie by a crime lab.

In contrast to the Phoenix case, Santa Clara County’s Department of Family and Children’s Services stated that they were not involved with Winter’s family prior to her death. The county’s child welfare agency has come under fire for allowing Phoenix to leave the hospital with her father despite the agency’s removal of his two older children. Two months before the baby was born, he and De La Cerda both tested positive for drugs. De La Cerda spent the majority of the baby’s life in jail and in treatment.

The judge informed Rayo and Richardson of their rights and the gravity of the situation in court on Monday.

At the conclusion of the hearing, Richardson turned to leave the courtroom, lifted her hand above her shackles, and strained to wave to Rayo, her high school boyfriend. He returned the smile.

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