Ex-lawyer sentenced to 45 years in South Beach eviction murder case

Joseph Richer was sentenced to 45 years after he was convicted of murdering Alberto Gomez Castellanos, a handyman, during an eviction.
Joseph Richer was sentenced to 45 years after he was convicted of murdering Alberto Gomez Castellanos, a handyman, during an eviction. Miami Herald staff

Educated at Cornell and Georgetown universities, ex-lawyer Joseph Richer lived off a trust fund at his beachfront South Beach condo.

Born in Colombia, Carlos Alberto Gomez Castellanos was a father of three who worked his entire life as a handyman.

Their lives could not have been any more different. Yet their paths intersected tragically during an unusually violent eviction in November 2010. Richer fired a .357-caliber Magnum at police looking to clear the condo. One round hit Gomez, whose only job was to clean the unit once empty.

Gomez died at age 61. It was his first day on the job.

And Richer, 48, got what amounts to a life sentence — 45 years in prison.

“Your actions turned what should have been a routine eviction into a tragedy,” Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Marisa Tinkler Mendez said at Tuesday’s sentencing hearing. “You were essentially lying in wait. It was a miracle it did not result in more deaths that day.”

Said Jennifer Betancourt, Gomez’s daughter: “Justice was met today.”

Tuesday’s sentence came three months after a Miami-Dade jury convicted Richer of second-degree murder with a deadly weapon and attempted murder. The conviction was an unusual fall from grace for a one-time attorney who noted he once clerked at the Wyoming Supreme Court.

Bearded and dressed in an orange jail jumpsuit, Richer sat in court Tuesday, seemingly resigned to a long prison term. He recounted his upbringing, including a bachelor’s degree from the Ivy League’s Cornell University in 1989.

He later became a lawyer in Wyoming, where he worked for a large firm doing general litigation before moving to Miami Beach to take care for his cancer-stricken father. In 2008, he graduated from Georgetown University with a master’s degree in international law.

But with the economy tanking, Richer found no jobs. At the October trial, prosecutors portrayed Richer as a local barfly who shunned work and lived off the trust fund left by his departed mother.

The ex-lawyer had been locked in a legal dispute with his father, Charles, over the unit at the beachfront Royal Atlantic Condominium, 465 Ocean Dr. The younger Richer lived there for seven years without making any payments.

“He had so many blessings in his life and he chose to throw that all way,” Miami-Dade prosecutor Tammy Forrest told the judge.

Prosecutors said Richer knew full well he was to be evicted that week — condo employees testified they told him, and he had been served with the proper legal paperwork. Richer had even switched his condo’s unit number in an attempt to fool police looking to evict him.

That morning, Miami-Dade Officer George Serradet, in full uniform and with a court order to evict Richer, loudly knocked on the door and announced his presence. Gomez and a locksmith accompanied him.

No one answered. The locksmith took 15 to 20 minutes to open the door. When the door swung open, prosecutors said Richer stood just feet away, the pistol aimed directly at the officer.

He fired, barely missing the cop. Serradet shot and wounded Richer, who fired a final, fatal bullet that hit Gomez in the back as the man ran off.

For his part, Richer insisted that he had been sleeping off a bender from the night before only to awake to face what he believed was an intruder. The first shot was a “warning” shot — the second an “unintentional” discharge, Richer claimed.

Jurors deliberated four hours before convicting Richer. He stood by his story on Tuesday.

“I was reacting in a panic to what I was thought was an intruder,” Richer told the judge. “I was in fear of a perceived threat, which obviously was bad judgment.”

Gomez had moved to the United States from Colombia when he was 17. A patient father of three daughters, Gomez had always worked maintaining properties.

He never got to meet his two granddaughters, Betancourt said in court.

“He lived a really simple life,” she said.