Doctor who abducted estranged wife asks out of prison
Appeal staff writer
Confined to a wheelchair after multiple sclerosis caused paralysis in his left side and stole the vision from his left eye, convicted kidnapper Dr. Richard Conte asked the Nevada Parole Board on Tuesday to release him from prison so he could live out his life with his aging mother.
“I’m physically incapable of doing any of the things I did six years ago,” said the former Carson Tahoe Hospital emergency room physician via video conference from the Northern Nevada Correctional Center. “I’m sure (the victim) worries about something like that happening again, but unless there’s a threat of me rolling over her toes with the wheelchair, there is no threat.”
Conte, 58, who appeared before the board for the first time Tuesday, has served 72 months in prison on a charge of administering a drug in the commission of a felony.
At the same time, he’s also served the minimum of 72 months on a charge of kidnapping, making him eligible for parole.
In 2002, distraught over the end of their relationship, Conte ambushed, drugged and kidnapped his estranged wife, Lark Gathright-Elliott, from her Salt Lake City home.
He then drove her, handcuffed in the back of a van, to his home on Clear Creek Road, where he held her chained to a bed for at least two days.
The couple had married in December 2001, but Gathright-Elliott filed for divorce 90 days later.
Conte released Gathright-Elliott as deputies were arriving at his home at the Douglas County-Carson City county line after her daughter called police after her mother went missing.
He pleaded guilty to the charges.
Before Conte addressed the Parole Board on Tuesday, Gathright-Elliott, her daughter Ashley Elliott, and brother Richard Gathright, testified against his release. The victim’s testimony was closed to the public.
Several people appeared on Conte’s behalf, including his 95-year-old mother, who flew in for the hearing from Milwaukee.
As her son wiped tears from his eyes, she began to read from a statement, but was overcome with emotion and asked that someone else read it for her.
“I hope this parole board grants a compassionate release for him as well as for me,” she wrote. “Richard is my only living child. I beg you for a favorable release.”
Dr. Dale Carrison, department chair for the emergency department of the University of Nevada School of Medicine, said he’d known Conte for a number of years. He said the kidnapping was out of character for the man he referred to as an “outstanding” emergency room physician.
“It wasn’t right. It shouldn’t have happened,” said Carrison. “That behavior certainly could have been triggered by the MS. I don’t know why the state would want to keep a man who’s crippled and has a debilitating disease that’s not going to get better. The time he’s served should be sufficient now.”
Conte said that if he is released, he and his mother will live with the family of a doctor who looked upon him as a son.
“I don’t think I pose a threat to society or anyone … I’m at the point of only costing the state money,” he said.
At the time of his arrest, Conte became a suspect in the Conway, Ark., murders a month earlier of Gathright-Elliott’s ex-husband, Carter Elliott, and Carter Elliott’s employee, Timothy Robertson.
At his home, police found an online map to Carter Elliott’s home on Conte’s computer and a list of Conway, Ark., police scanner frequencies.
No charges have ever been filed against Conte in the case, but Conway Police Major Mark Elsinger said at the time that Conte was the prime suspect.
“We have a large amount of circumstantial evidence that leads us to believe Dr. Richard Conte committed this crime,” Elsinger told the Conway Log Cabin Democrat newspaper at the time. “We have no other leads, we have followed every possible
lead we have come up with and what we have come up with is Dr. Conte.”
Ashley Elliott, who in the past has said that she believes Conte was involved in her father’s murder, agreed on Tuesday to be on camera during the parole hearing so
Conte could see her as she asked him why he did what he did.
“I want to know why he did this to me? He took my trust and ripped it apart,” she said, her body shaking.
“I was trying to revive and rekindle a relationship that I know now was not there,” Conte replied.
“You’ve ripped my life apart,” she said. “I trusted you. I trusted you with my mother.”
“I did not mean in any way to injure you either emotionally or physically,” he said.
Board members said they would forward a recommendation to the full panel and Conte would learn his fate within three weeks.
If parole is denied, with the good time behavior he has accrued since his June 2002 incarceration, Conte’s sentences will expire in August 2011.
– Contact reporter F.T. Norton at email@example.com or 881-1213.