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  • Writer's pictureDennis McCaslin

Court rules murder suspects prior record, convictions to be withheld from upcoming trial

A man arrested after police say he brutally murdered his girlfriend last year before dumping her body on the side of an Arkansas highway had a hearing Wednesday morning in Sebastian County Circuit Cout in advance of his scheduled trial later in the year.

Maurice Anthony Richardson, 60, ischarged with first-degree murder for the death of Tonia Tran, 53, in August of 2022.

The hearing on Wednesday was basically on procedural items as Richardson sought to suppress the evidence in the case through a motion by his attorney, Marvin J. Honeycutt. He ;also was claiming a denial of his right to concur with Honeycutt. The court did request a motion in limine, ruling that Richardson prior crimes and convictions cannot be addressed during his trial.

The following information from relates most of the details in the case:

According to an arrest affidavit signed by the Arkansas State Police Tran was physically battered, sexually assaulted and suffocated before being left on the side of Highway 186 near Atlus — less than 50 miles east of Fort Smith.

State police responded to a report of a dead Asian woman on Aug. 10, according to the charging documents. The then-unidentified woman's body was first wrapped in plastic sheeting and then in a comforter with a hummingbird-and-flower print before being dumped.

The victim was later identified as Tonia Tran through a serial number on a breast implant. After learning her identity, police also learned that, less than two months before her death, Tran had moved from Garden Grove, California — a southeast suburb of Los Angeles — to Fort Smith and rented a brick duplex on 41st Street.

Her boyfriend, Maurice Richardson of Fort Smith, allegedly also lived in the duplex Tran had rented.

“Officers obtained a search warrant for the residence and the vehicle, which were executed on Aug. 20, 2022,” according to the affidavit. “During the execution of the search warrant, contact was made with Maurice Richardson (the boyfriend of Ms. Tran), who had moved another Asian female into the residence.”

Police said the new woman was Richardson’s “new girlfriend” and that she “bears a marked resemblance to the victim.”

The woman was also wearing the victim’s wedding rings.

Tran’s 2005 Nissan Quest minivan with California plates was also found at the residence. Police said the van revealed a blood pattern indicative of a body being dragged from the vehicle.

Special Agents with the Arkansas State Police arrested Richardson and booked him into the Sebastian County Detention Center, where he is being held on $500,000 cash-only bond. Jail records show he was also charged with theft of a motor vehicle at that time. but that charge will not be pursued.

He is listed in jail records and by the prosecuting attorney’s office as a habitual offender, which could increase his sentence were he to be convicted of Tran's murder. According to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Richardson’s previous felony convictions include firearm possession and promoting prostitution.

Under Arkansas law, only first degree promoting prostitution is considered a felony. It is defined as either: profiting from or advancing the prostitution of a victim under 18; or "compelling a person by physical force or intimidation to engage in prostitution, or profit[ing] from such coercive conduct by another."

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