Man whose improvised mortar device exploded, killing girlfriend, enters not guilty plea

EL CAJON (CNS) – An East County handyman whose improvised mortar device exploded, sending shrapnel through his trailer and killing his girlfriend, pleaded not guilty Thursday to murder and other charges.

Richard Dale Fox, 39, also known as Richard Gail Barrett, was ordered held on $3.5 million bail.

Deputy District Attorney C.J. Mody said Fox, his girlfriend and three male friends were in the trailer in Potrero drinking around 11:30 p.m. Monday when the defendant went outside to ignite the mortar device, described earlier as a cannon.

Mody said the device included a 26-inch-long pipe meant to be stood up, loaded with gunpowder or some other explosive material and ignited by a fuse at its base. The prosecutor said the device was not pointed at the trailer.

The prosecutor said Fox ignited the mortar device and it exploded, causing the pipe to shatter and sending a piece of shrapnel through a side panel of the trailer, striking 38-year-old Jeanette Ogara in the upper chest.

The couple's 4-year-old daughter, who was sleeping in a front area of the trailer, and the three friends were not injured, Mody said. Fox was treated for leg wounds.

“There is no evidence that this was intentional on Mr. Fox's part,” Mody said outside court. “The shrapnel flew through the air after the device he was igniting exploded and did result in the death of his girlfriend.”

In addition to murder, Fox was charged with causing death by exploding an explosive device and child endangerment. He faces life in prison without parole if convicted of the explosion charge.

Mody wouldn't comment further on the ongoing investigation. Authorities said investigators with the sheriff's bomb squad, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the U.S. Justice Department searched Fox's trailer and the surrounding area with bomb-sniffing dogs on Wednesday, looking for any other explosives he might have been keeping.

According to court records, Fox served time in prison in the 1990s for auto theft and weapons possession convictions. In 2009, he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor battery charge against Ogara.

El Cajon Superior Court Judge Charles Ervin scheduled a readiness conference for March 16 and a preliminary hearing for March 21.

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