Couple plead guilty in 2006 sex slaying in Clay County

An Independence couple already convicted in the rape and torture of a 36-year-old woman avoided a death-penalty trial in Clay County by pleading guilty Tuesday to murdering her.

Once known as the FBI’s most-wanted couple, Richard D. Davis and Dena D. Riley each faced capital murder charges in connection with the April 2006 slaying of Michelle Huff-Ricci. Authorities found her burned body in May 2006 in a wooded area near Missouri 210 and Missouri 291 in rural Clay County.

Davis and Riley also tortured, raped and killed another woman, whose nude body was found by a fisherman in a shallow Lafayette County grave in May 2006.

The finding of that grave prompted sheriff’s deputies to the visit the couple’s Independence apartment, where authorities eventually found videos depicting the torture and rapes of both victims. Huff-Ricci died first, they later determined, but her body was found second.

The suspects fled before authorities could arrest them, sparking an eight-day manhunt during which the couple kidnapped and sexually assaulted a 5-year-old Kansas girl.

In exchange for Tuesday’s guilty pleas, Clay County Prosecutor Daniel L. White agreed to no longer seek the death penalty. A judge sentenced both defendants Tuesday to life in prison, which adds to sentences they already are serving for Jackson County convictions. Davis received a death sentence in that case; Riley drew nine life sentences.

Davis deserves a death sentence in Clay County as well, White said Tuesday. But since he can be executed only once, why put another jury through having to watch “the horrific acts caught on videotape?” White said.

“If we could kill him twice, I would be moving forward to get a death sentence from another jury,” White said.

In back-to-back hearings in Clay County Circuit Court, Davis, 48, looked mostly forward when he appeared. Riley, 46, dabbed tears from her eyes.

A relative described for the judge how Huff-Ricci’s death left four children motherless and caused heartache for the entire family.

“This has been a senseless tragedy — one we will never have all the answers for or understand,” said Karen Shannon, a cousin of Huff-Ricci.

Before his sentence was announced, Davis said, “None of this should’ve happened. I am sorry. It shouldn’t have happened.”

Authorities linked Huff-Ricci to Davis and Riley while investigating the rape, torture and killing of Marsha Spicer in the couple’s Independence home on or about May 14, 2006. While searching the couple’s apartment, authorities found videotape of the couple raping and torturing Huff-Ricci, who had disappeared in April 2006. It provided evidence that a second victim existed, and authorities soon launched a search to find her. Davis and Riley later directed police to her body.

At the time, White described Huff-Ricci’s death as “a sad, disturbing, horrifying and senseless act.”

According to White, after Davis and Riley raped and tortured Huff-Ricci, they devised a plan to kill her because she knew where they lived and they feared she would contact police about what they had done to her.

According to court records, Davis kept Huff-Ricci drugged while they decided what to do. They put Huff-Ricci into their Toyota and drove her to Missouri 210. At that point, Davis got out of the vehicle with Huff-Ricci and told Riley to drive away.

Davis, a convicted rapist, tried to strangle Huff-Ricci with a rope. When that did not kill her, Davis covered Huff-Ricci’s mouth and nose to suffocate her.

The next day, Davis and Riley returned to the wooded area where they had left Huff-Ricci’s nude body. They doused her with lighter fluid and covered her with brush and ignited it.

Several weeks later, during the Spicer murder investigation, authorities found the videotapes, including one depicting Spicer in violent sex scenes inside the couple’s apartment. One tape more than two hours long showed Spicer being beaten, raped and strangled.

Davis was convicted in August 2008 in Jackson County Circuit Court in the kidnapping, torture and first-degree murder of Spicer and the kidnapping, rape and torture of Huff-Ricci. Months later, Riley admitted in Jackson County her role in the torture of both women and the murder of Spicer.

After authorities investigating Spicer’s killing made a visit to the couple’s home, Riley and Davis fled. While on the run, they kidnapped and assaulted a 5-year-old girl from Arcadia, Kan. In 2009, a federal judge sentenced Riley to life in prison after she pleaded guilty to the kidnapping. Prosecutors dismissed charges against Davis in that case.

Should Davis’ conviction or death sentence in Jackson County ever be overturned, the Clay County conviction will ensure that he spends the rest of his life in prison, White said Tuesday.

“I think it is important for people to understand that this is in no way where Marsha Spicer received more justice than Michelle Ricci,” he said. “One of the aggravating circumstances that allowed a Jackson County jury to consider the death penalty was the death of Michelle Ricci.”