RAPID CITY, S.D. — After more than a decade, the accused boyfriend of a woman found dead in the Black Hills of South Dakota has accepted a plea offer just before his trial was set to begin.
In August 2013, Meshell Will was reported missing and her decomposing body was discovered four days later. Her boyfriend, Richard Schmitz, 55, was arrested nearly eight years later in 2021 and charged with second-degree murder.
On Tuesday, Schmitz entered an Alford plea to second-degree manslaughter. In exchange for his plea, the state agreed to drop the more severe second-degree murder charge. Second-degree manslaughter carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Deputy Pennington County State’s Attorney Roxanne Hammond stated that Schmitz “at the very minimum” recklessly caused Will’s death. This admission comes after years of uncertainty surrounding the cause of Will’s death, as the autopsy conducted on her body in 2013 listed the cause of death as undetermined.
Law enforcement has not disclosed the specific evidence that led to Schmitz’s arrest, but a 2021 pathology report ruled out natural, suicide, or accidental manner of death. The report stated that the manner of death is either undetermined or homicide, ultimately leading to further suspicion of Schmitz’s involvement.
The state had planned to introduce information about Schmitz’s past relationships and allegations of violence at trial. The presiding judge has ordered a pre-sentencing investigation report and a domestic violence report to inform Schmitz’s sentencing, scheduled for March 8.
The case marks a significant development in the long-standing mystery surrounding Meshell Will’s death and sheds light on the complexities of pursuing justice in cases with limited evidence.