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Richard Ricci dies

Death is big blow to kidnap investigation

The top potential suspect in Elizabeth Smart's kidnapping died Friday night after doctors removed life support, making the missing girl's case more problematic for police — yet giving her family hope that others now will come forward.

Richard Albert Ricci died at 7:28 p.m., 12 minutes after doctors carried out his family's wishes that life support be stopped.

"Now, as our families prepare our last goodbyes, I would respectfully ask that we be allowed to grieve in private," said Ricci's wife, Angela, through family spokeswoman Nancy Pomeroy. Pomeroy said that at some point Ricci's wife would speak directly to the press.

Ricci had been in a coma since suffering a brain hemorrhage Tuesday in his prison cell, where he was being held on charges of burglarizing the Smart home and another house in the Federal Heights neighborhood.

Ricci also had been the main focus of attention in the Smart kidnapping for months, although he denied any involvement with the June 5 abduction.

After undergoing emergency surgery after collapsing, he remained comatose, though breathing on his own. Doctors said earlier Friday that Ricci had "no realistic chance" of a "meaningful" recovery. Before his death, Ricci was ministered to by LDS and Catholic clergy. Funeral arrangements are pending.

Smart family spokesman Chris Thomas said Ricci's death might motivate others — individuals the family has believed all along were involved in the case and who had been seen with Ricci prior to the kidnapping — to come forward.

"Perhaps those people will now be more inclined to tell police what they know," Thomas said, adding that the Smart family members offer "our deepest condolences to the Ricci family in this incredibly difficult time."

Ricci had been a handyman at the Smart home.

Police have said that Ricci's death would actually make what has been a troublesome case even more so, saying it was another unusual twist in a bizarre case. Investigators are apparently no closer to finding the 14-year-old than they were on June 5, when a gunman took Elizabeth from her bedroom in the middle of the night.

Officers have said that Ricci had not truthfully answered their questions about where he was the night of kidnapping but had hoped if he recovered he would be more inclined to cooperate. They said they might never be able to fully clear him in the case if he didn't recover.

Police have stressed that Ricci was just one of a number of people being investigated; however, they conceded the loss of Ricci will be a big blow to their investigation of the kidnapping.

Still, "the investigation does have breath," Assistant Chief Scott Folsom said Friday.

Ricci had a history of hypertension but was not on medication while in the prison, said state Department of Corrections spokesman Jack Ford.

"We hate to have somebody pass away when they're in our custody," Ford said. "And it's unfortunate because he was still being investigated by a couple of other law enforcement agencies."

Ford said Ricci's body will undergo an autopsy, and once that is complete the body will be turned over to his family.

Guards said Ricci had passed out Tuesday night while they were talking to him after he had called for help because he was having trouble breathing. Ricci's collapse came just hours after he made an appearance in 3rd District Court on theft and burglary charges.

Elaine Skalabrin, director of University Hospital's Neuro Critical Care Unit, said most of the damage to Ricci's brain occurred before he arrived at the hospital.

Friday morning, Elizabeth's family turned to the public to answer questions Ricci no longer can. They said they want the answers to two questions and are willing to pay $3,000 each for those answers.

In particular, they want to know who picked up Ricci when he left his white Jeep Cherokee at Neth's Auto Repair on June 8.

Ed Smart, Elizabeth's father, says he's certain Ricci had something to do with his daughter's disappearance. He's most interested in the man who met Ricci at the repair shop three days after the kidnapping.

"There was somebody else that knew something," Smart said.

They also asked for information regarding a July 24 attempted break-in at the Cottonwood Heights home of Jeannie and Steve Wright. Lois Smart, Elizabeth's mother, is Jeannie Wright's sister.

The families are close and regularly spent Sundays together. Elizabeth and the Wrights' 15-year-old daughter also were close, Ed Smart said.