part 1 of 2
Bob and Elisabeth Boccardi of Colorado Springs have spent the past two decades trying to rescue their son Richard. When the boy was three, that meant seeking professional treatment for his hyperactivity. When he was an adolescent, it meant going to bat for him when he was expelled from one school after another. When he was a teenager, it meant bailing him out of jail.
His middle-class parents--Bob is a retired, decorated Army officer and Elisabeth works in a beauty salon--refused to play the savior only once, pressing charges in 1991 when, at age twenty, Richard stole his father's ATM card and cleaned out the family bank account. Richard got a five-year hitch in the state prison for theft, a sentence the Boccardis say they intended as a learning experience that would help their son understand there were consequences to his actions.
The experience, however, didn't teach him what they'd hoped. Richard Boccardi now has a swastika tattooed on his arm, and Department of Corrections officials say he is a prime suspect in a brutal prison murder that claimed the life of nineteen-year-old inmate Robert Gardner III. And, once again, the Boccardis find themselves trying to get their son out of a jam.
Gardner's cellmate at the Limon Correctional Facility, Timothy Starkey, has since confessed to committing the murder singlehandedly. But that hasn't stopped prison officials from pursuing their theory that Boccardi, who has notched up a prison record as a troublemaker, also took part.
Though Gardner was strangled to death more than a year ago, a Lincoln County deputy district attorney assigned to the case has yet to decide whether to file murder charges against Boccardi (officials at the DA's office and other law enforcement agencies say the case is still under investigation). Prison authorities, however, say it is likely Boccardi will be charged--and add that he has already been found guilty through an internal process known as an "administrative hearing." Boccardi was not represented by an attorney at that hearing, and he says he was not allowed to call any witnesses in his defense. But based on the DOC's finding of guilt, he has been denied parole on the theft charge and forced to spend the past year in a maximum-security cell.
There's more to the case than Boccardi has told his parents or the media, says Dennis Hougnon, the DOC investigator who implicated Boccardi in the crime. But Hougnon and other DOC officials refuse to say why they believe Boccardi was involved.
Richard and Elisabeth Boccardi, meanwhile, accuse the DOC of repeatedly breaking its own rules in their son's case. In a separate case last year, three Limon guards were implicated in planting a knife in an inmate's cell, they note--and they fear that guards may also have manufactured evidence against Richard. But despite scores of letters, meetings with corrections officials and complaints to dozens of bureaucrats, there is nothing they can do to help Richard this time. "The bottom line," says Bob Boccardi of prison officials, "is that they can do whatever they want to."
Timothy Starkey shrugs, smiles and says he doesn't "have a clue" why Richard Boccardi is suspected of strangling Robert Gardner. Boccardi wasn't involved, he says, adding that he'd be willing to testify to that in court. The reason, says Starkey, is that he squeezed the life out of Gardner himself.
Starkey, 23, appears subdued and patient as guards lead him, handcuffed and shackled, to a glass-walled visiting booth at the Colorado State Penitentiary in Canon City. He becomes more animated when the guards leave, revealing a cocky, breezy air. His wiry body is covered with tattoos, some of which he received surreptitiously in prison, although the picture of Woody Woodpecker emblazoned on his scalp is of an earlier vintage. A self-described former skinhead, he still clings to his racist views.
And racial matters, according to a story he relates in matter-of-fact tones, are the reason Gardner had to die.
Starkey was living at the Limon prison in late March 1993 when prison authorities delivered Robert Gardner to his door and announced he was to be Starkey's new cellmate. The two had first met years earlier when both were incarcerated at the Lookout Mountain school for boys. They hadn't liked each other then. Time hadn't changed anything.
"I wanted him out of my cell, and I told him that if he didn't leave, we would have problems," Starkey says. "I didn't want anybody associating me with him. I tend to stick with my white friends and my white partners, and [Gardner] was a race mixer. He was living with black dudes. I believe in sticking with my own kind. I don't want anybody from any other race influencing me. But [Gardner] was real weak. They turned him into a fag. He also was a jailhouse thief.
"Jailhouse thieves," Starkey continues, almost spitting out the words, "that's real low. It's like an unwritten law. Something you don't do. I had no respect for the guy. He didn't respect himself. I was kind of tired of having him be my cellie."
And so, says Starkey, early on the morning of April 5, 1993, he waited in his cell while the other inmates in his pod trooped off to breakfast. "I figured that was my best chance. Everybody would be gone and [there would be no] witnesses."
Gardner was asleep on the upper bunk when Starkey jumped up from a desk onto Gardner's bed. "He woke up, and I started putting an electric cord around his neck," he says. "An extension cord. He got out of it and fell out of the bunk. I went after him. We battled it out for a little bit, and eventually he got exhausted and gave up. After the incident, I put him back in the bed.
"It wasn't easy," Starkey volunteers. "I had to walk backwards up the stepladder. Dead weight. I rearranged the house and put it back together. Knowing it was my own cell and anything they found--hair, fibers, prints--would be both of ours, I figured they wouldn't have no physical evidence."
Starkey says he put a toothpaste cap in the cell door to make it appear that the lock had been tampered with. "So it would look like someone broke into the house," he explains. Then he left to play racquetball.
Guards discovered Gardner's body about 9:30 that morning. Starkey was apprehended as he returned to his cell from the racquetball court. "I told them I had nothing to say," says Starkey, who was immediately placed in solitary confinement. "And that was really it."
But in the eyes of prison investigators, that wasn't it. Shortly after Starkey was thrown into the "hole," guards escorted Richard Boccardi into a nearby cell. That night, both men were told they were suspected of killing Gardner.
Bob Boccardi, who began selling insurance after retiring from the Army, describes himself as a supporter of law and order. He met and married Elisabeth nearly thirty years ago when he was stationed in Germany. The couple had two boys. Their oldest son, Tom, is an Army captain who lives in Hawaii.
Their second-born son had problems almost from the start, Elisabeth Boccardi says with some reluctance. He wasn't a bad boy, not really, she says. But she and Bob noticed something was wrong from the time Richard was three.
The boy was hyperactive, inattentive and disliked authority, characteristics that only seemed to worsen when he reached school age. He was suspended "once every week," his mother says. He had trouble following the rules, and was continually speaking out and getting into what his father terms "hassles with other kids."
By age seven Richard was seeing a psychiatrist. He would continue therapy off and on for years. At first he was diagnosed as suffering from attention-deficit disorder. Years later doctors would say he was manic-depressive. They prescribed a variety of drugs for him, including lithium, but he disliked the side effects and often didn't take them.
The Boccardis tried everything they could think of to help their son. When he was fourteen, they placed Richard in a Colorado Springs psychiatric center for a month or two, after which he went to live in a residential treatment center in Texas for a year and a half. While Richard was in Texas, his parents made a point of visiting him every two months, participating in family therapy sessions.
But nothing the Boccardis did seemed to work for long. On occasion Richard would even steal cash or small items from his parents. When that happened, Bob and Elisabeth say, they'd make him work it off or they'd take it out of his allowance. But he never seemed to learn, and went on to rack up a juvenile arrest record. "Fighting," Bob Boccardi says with a sigh. "Drinking. Drugs."
"Basically," says Elisabeth, her voice still bearing the accent of her native Germany, "we have always bailed Ricky out."
In 1988, when Richard was eighteen, the Boccardis moved from Colorado Springs to Chicago, where Bob had accepted a job as a store manager. He and Elisabeth hoped that Richard, by then a high school dropout, would be able to make a fresh start. "He took a few odd jobs," Bob Boccardi says, "but he couldn't stay out of trouble."
Richard began shuttling between Illinois and Colorado. He was nabbed in Colorado Springs for criminal mischief in the summer of 1989 after getting drunk and putting a rock through a window. He was put on probation. Two years later he set fire to a room at a Red Roof Inn in Arlington Heights, Illinois. According to a police spokesman there, Boccardi had rented a room and thrown a party for his friends. When the bash was over, says the spokesman, Richard "decided it would be a good idea to set the room on fire."
Richard's friends later told police that he had heaped phone books, tables and the bathroom door in the middle of the room and set the pile on fire. But by the time Illinois authorities tracked him down, Richard was in custody again in Colorado.
Bob and Elisabeth Boccardi had moved back to Colorado Springs in the summer of 1991, bringing Richard with them. "We were here no more than a month," Bob Boccardi says, "when Richard grabbed my Pocket Teller card and cleaned out" the family's bank account. Richard also threw a $1,500 fete for his friends at the Colorado Springs Marriott with the help of Bob's American Express card. Then he banged up the family car. And he did it all within a fourteen-hour period.
"It was," says Bob Boccardi, "the ultimate betrayal." He and Elisabeth knew that if they pressed charges, it could mean jail time for their son. But the couple had finally reached the end of their rope. "He was going to be 21," Elisabeth says, "and we felt we could not bail him out again."
The Boccardis went forward with the criminal case. Richard was sentenced on August 23, 1991.
At six feet, three inches and 230 pounds, Richard Boccardi is a taller version of his father. His short hair and bespectacled face make him look like a throwback to the Fifties. He is clearly nervous as he submits to an interview in another visiting room of the Colorado State Penitentiary. His gaze darts around the small room. He never looks his visitor in the eye. When he speaks quickly, he has a tendency to stutter.
Richard says he understands why his parents felt they had to bring charges against him. He says he is ashamed about what he did to them. But if he does feel remorse, it hasn't made him an ideal inmate.
Richard was initially sent to the state prison in Buena Vista. A March 1992 progress assessment summary filled out by his case manager there describes him as a management problem. "Has no desire to follow rules, anti-authority, lazy," the summary reads. "Takes no responsibility for bad behavior. This man is not interested in improving himself or in doing anything constructive. To date, he has alienated every officer with whom he has interacted."
Six months later a second Buena Vista case manager indicated that Boccardi's attitude hadn't changed much. "He is a big individual who either puts on a show of bravado to cover feelings of inadequacy, or he is really impressed with himself," the report says. "And that, too, is a tragedy. He really lacks in a number of areas, and if he doesn't make some positive changes, [he] will be doomed to a life behind bars."
His assessment summaries don't mention Boccardi's swastika tattoo or his parents' claims that he has picked up racist beliefs in prison.
In Buena Vista Boccardi was assigned to share a cell with Timothy Starkey. The two men are the same age and knew some of the same people from Colorado Springs. Says Boccardi, "We became pretty decent friends."
According to a pre-sentence investigation report, Timothy Starkey was one of four sons born to Timothy and Linda Herubin. After his parents separated, all the children were placed in foster care due to abuse and neglect. When Timothy was seven, he and his older brother went to live with Glenn and Becky Starkey, who adopted the boys three years later. Starkey's two youngest brothers were adopted by separate families. Glenn and Becky Starkey divorced in 1987.
Starkey's run-ins with the law started "because I was a rebellious kid and I would do things at home," he says from behind the visiting room's glass wall. "I would run away." His parents, he says, "got tired" and put him in a shelter. He split from there, too, eventually being sentenced to a juvenile facility on burglary charges--the only crime other than escape for which he's ever been convicted. Then Starkey escaped from the juvenile center. In 1989 authorities lost all patience with Starkey's wanderlust. A judge socked him with a four- to sixteen-year sentence for escape.
Starkey didn't get along in prison any better than Boccardi. By March 1992 prison officials had charged him with disobeying orders, assault and possession of contraband. He was shipped off to Limon, a "close-security" facility where prisoners' comings and goings are carefully monitored. It is a step below maximum security and a step above medium security. It was a backward step for Starkey.
Not long after Starkey arrived at Limon, his old cellmate followed him to the facility. In August 1992 Boccardi was charged under the penal code with fondling another inmate at Buena Vista. Although Boccardi says he was "set up" and that the allegation is untrue, he was convicted of the charge in an administrative hearing and shipped off to Limon.
By early spring of 1993 the Limon Correctional Facility was in a state of turmoil. Prison-reform groups were demanding action in the wake of what they termed "unchecked violence," including the deaths of three inmates (two of which were homicides) and the stabbings of another prisoner and a guard. The American Civil Liberties Union joined the fray in March, announcing it would take on the case of ten inmates who were suing state officials over conditions at the then two-year-old prison. Amid the growing criticism, and within weeks of the ACLU's announcement, DOC chief Frank Gunter abruptly resigned, to be replaced by former Denver police chief Ari Zavaras.
Unit 2 at Limon was one of the facility's worst trouble spots. At the time it housed primarily "idle" inmates, those who didn't hold regular prison jobs and had plenty of opportunity to cause trouble.
Boccardi lived in Unit 2 on an upper tier, one of the lucky few who were assigned to a single cell. Starkey lived in a "house" on the floor below him. Robert Gardner III, who was halfway through a four-year sentence for menacing, was moved into Starkey's cell in late March 1993.
Like Starkey and Boccardi, Gardner had been a management problem in prison. He'd been written up at least ten times by guards for such offenses as fighting, disobeying orders, possession of contraband and tampering with locks. On the surface, Starkey and Gardner seemed a more likely pair than Starkey and Boccardi. Both had grown up in the Denver area. Both were adopted. Both were little guys. And both were prone to running away from institutions.
end of part 1
Get the Weekly Newsletter