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Man held in Home Depot shooting

An ex-con is arrested while visiting his parole officer in Oceanside. A store manager was gunned down during a $500 robbery in Tustin.

February 24, 2007|David Reyes | Times Staff Writer

Tustin police have arrested a parolee with a long criminal record in this month's shooting death of a local Home Depot store manager during a $500 robbery.

Jason Russell Richardson, 36, was taken into custody Thursday night in Oceanside during a visit with his parole officer, police said. He was being held Friday without bail in Orange County Jail.

He is accused of shooting Tom Egan, 40, a former Marine and the father of 3-year-old twin daughters, on Feb. 9.

Richardson was on parole for a 2002 spousal abuse conviction. His string of convictions includes rape, sexual assault on a child, grand theft burglary, narcotics and possession of stolen property, police said. He is a registered sex offender.

The killing attracted nationwide attention, spurring Home Depot's corporate office in Atlanta to offer a $100,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of the gunman.

Last week, NASCAR driver Tony Stewart, who heard Egan was a fan of stock car racing, put Egan's name on his Home Depot-sponsored Monte Carlo at the Daytona 500 as a tribute.

A surveillance camera showed a man dressed in a painter's jumpsuit and dust mask enter the store. When the robber pointed a gun at a cashier, Egan, an assistant manager on loan from the Santa Ana store, pleaded with the man to leave, Police Sgt. Jeff Blair said.

The gunman ignored Egan and proceeded to rob a cashier. When Egan followed him, Blair said, the robber shot him, continued cleaning out the register, stepped over the manager and fled.

A.J. Egan said the actions of her husband were typical of him because "he always put the care of others in front of himself."

The death struck a chord in the community, said City Councilman Jerry Amante. "To have somebody in broad daylight go to a place where all of us go to frequently and [then this guy shoots] somebody is distressing. We were just shocked and angered," Amante said.

At the Tustin store, customers said they were gratified with the arrest. "I'm a death-penalty advocate and would like to see him get a death sentence," said Judy Lee of Tustin, who was buying azaleas for her garden.

Richardson was arrested after police found DNA evidence at the scene that linked him to the crime, Blair said. Richardson's DNA sample was in the state's system as the result of a 1992 rape conviction.

Police placed him under surveillance and later connected him to a minivan that matched the description of the getaway vehicle.

On Friday, residents of a north Oceanside neighborhood said that about 6:30 the previous night, 30 to 40 police officers, including Tustin investigators, searched a house where Richardson was living.

Richardson frequently displayed fits of anger and was often heard yelling in the house, neighbors said. One said that on Wednesday she watched Richardson hit the family Chihuahua that had wandered into another frontyard.

Richardson has a shaved head and numerous gang tattoos, police said. Neighbors in the tract of homes and duplexes built in the 1960s said that he lived with his mother and her boyfriend, a woman and two school-aged children.

The boyfriend, who rented the house, said he tried to help Richardson get back on his feet after a stint in prison but said Richardson was a lost cause, "an ex-con who was a major disappointment."

Egan's widow said she has been buoyed by hundreds of phone calls, e-mails and letters of support to her and her daughters.

She greeted the arrest with mixed emotions. She said she was more focused on caring for her daughters, Jenna and Katie, and the loss of her husband than thinking about the suspect. "I'm satisfied, but the guy was so opposite my husband," she said.

Flags were flown at half staff at Home Depot stores nationwide, she said.

"Even the night shift at the Santa Ana store where my husband worked started an educational fund for my daughters," she said.

Egan had worked for the home-improvement company for 13 years and was described by his widow as hard working but always ready with a smile: "He didn't just give you advice when he spoke. He always told a story and people really like that."

Police usually advise that during an armed robbery, it's best to keep a low profile. But Egan's widow said that wasn't her husband.

"I was always proud of him, and if he had to do it all over again, he would," she said. "That's the kind of guy he was. He wasn't a shoulda-woulda-coulda kind of guy."

Times staff writer Gil Reza and editorial assistant Yvonne Villarreal contributed to this report.

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