Together they beat, tortured and burned Air Force veteran Cordell Richards to within an inch of his life before returning the next day to finish him off with a meat cleaver.
But while Ronald Bell and Kristel Maestas will likely die behind bars for the ‘unspeakable’ slaying, the third member of their evil trio is enjoying a comfortable middle-class life in a Florida suburb, DailyMail.com can reveal.
Minister’s son Bell and former girlfriend Maestas were aged 17 and 16 respectively when they kidnapped and butchered Richards in the Panhandle city of Fort Walton Beach in February 1999.
Accomplice Renee Lincks – tied father-of-two Richards to a tree and took turns in battering him with a baseball bat – at the age of 15.
But while the older teens were convicted of first degree murder and jailed for life, Lincks was able to plead no contest to charges of manslaughter and false imprisonment in return for testifying against them.
The maximum sentence was 15 years and Lincks would ultimately serve just 12 in a medium security prison.
Renee Lincks, 36, was sentenced to 15 years in prison for the 1999 murder of Air Force veteran Cordell Richards when she was 15 and was released in 2012 at age 28
Since being released from prison, Lincks lives a comfortable lifestyle in Florida, pictured here last week shopping at Ross where she purchased dog treats and home goods
The tattooed felon has built a new life in Homestead, south of Miami, where she recently purchased her first home with a female partner (the couple are pictured together)
The badly decomposed body of 31-year-old Cordell Richards was found burned and tied to a tree in a secluded area near Fort Walton Beach, Florida in March 1999
Now in their 30s, Bell and Maestas, appeared in court last week to appeal their sentences under a Supreme Court ruling that said mandatory life without parole for juveniles was unconstitutional.
A judge dashed their hopes of release by upholding both life terms – but the same cannot be said of Lincks who was freed in 2012, aged 28.
DailyMail.com can reveal that the tattooed felon has since built a fun new life in Homestead, south of Miami, where she recently purchased her first home with a female partner.
Her carefree lifestyle is laid bare in social media posts which show her partying with girlfriends, sipping drinks by a pool and dressing dogs up in Christmas outfits.
When DailyMail.com approached the now 36-year-old this week to speak about the case Lincks refused to discuss her dark past. ‘How did you know my name?’ she snapped at our reporter. ‘I’m not going to answer any of your questions.’
Richards’ family understood the need for a plea deal in the original 2000 prosecution and regarded it as a necessary evil to secure damning testimony against two of the three. But they have always felt Lincks was integral to the killing – and should also be locked up for life.
‘Without a doubt in my mind, she should still be behind bars,’ the slain Airman’s youngest daughter Rei Richards, 24, told DailyMail.com.
‘Renee Lincks was a very active part of the process – she is just as much of a monster as the rest of them are.’
Lincks’ carefree lifestyle is laid bare in social media posts which show her partying with friends
A year after she was released from prison in 2012, Lincks (center) was sipping drinks by a pool with her girlfriends
This is the woman (left) that Lincks is living with in Homestead, Florida, after only serving 12 years behind bars for the murder of the Air Force veteran
Renee Lincks and her female partner purchased this three bedroom, two bath 1,483 square-foot home Homestead, Florida for $205,000 in 2018
In a grim irony, the Ford F150 truck she drives has a large decal on the back window paying tribute to fallen US servicemen
Lincks took a break from her manual labor job to have lunch at Long John Silvers in Florida last week
Links, Maestas and Bell had never met Richards until Maestas was kicked out by her parents in early 1999 and responded to his newspaper ad for a room for rent.
Within weeks of moving in she alleged to Bell, her besotted boyfriend of several months, that Richards had made unwanted sexual advances towards her and Lincks.
Cordell’s daughter Rei Richards, 24, told DailyMail.com, ‘Without a doubt in my mind, she should still be behind bars’
On the evening of February 2, 1999, Bell confronted Richards inside his apartment, chocking him unconscious and clubbing him with a baseball bat. Bell, Maestas and Lincks then together tied Richards up and rolled him in a blanket before driving him to secluded woodland.
For the next two days they kept the helpless veteran chained to a tree and subjected him to what the judge at the original murder trial described as ‘unspeakable horror’.
The trio first took turns to hit Richards with the bat, with Bell complaining the girls weren’t striking him hard enough and proclaiming himself ‘Babe Ruth’ as he viciously slugged his victim.
Then, as Richards begged for his life Bell poured lighter fuel over him. Maestas set him alight.
The three ran off into the night but when they returned the next morning to check that Richards was dead, they found him clinging to life and calling faintly for help.
According to Lincks’ testimony, Bell attempted to snap Richards’ neck but failed. He and Lincks then drove to a nearby Target to buy duct tape and a meat cleaver which Bell used to cut Richards’ throat.
They even took the murder weapon back to the store afterwards to claim a refund, according to reports from the time. Bell and Maestas would return to the scene one last time a week later, this time to burn Richards’ corpse and cover their tracks.
The warped trio might have succeeded had a 12-year-old boy not stumbled across the charred remains on March 4.
While the body was damaged beyond recognition, forensics experts were able to retrieve a single fingerprint from a thumb which they eventually matched to Richards’ military records.
By then the doting dad had been missing a month, his family growing increasingly concerned when he failed to show up at Rei’s fourth birthday party.
An autopsy would reveal the shocking extent of the torture, with Richards found to have suffered multiple fractures to his head, shoulder, sternum, ribs, arms and wrist.
Bell was originally sentenced to death but in 2002 the Florida Supreme Court overturned the ruling because the judge had not taken sufficient account of his age at the time of the killing.
Prosecutors did not seek the death penalty against Maestas because she was only 16. She was instead handed a life sentence.
Kristel Maestas was 16 at the time of Cordell Richard’s murder, who was her landlord. She was re-sentenced to life in prison in Florida last week
Ronald Bell was 17 when he murdered Cordell Richards after his then-girlfriend Maestas claimed Richards had made a pass at her. He and Maestas had become eligible for re-sentencing after the Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that juveniles couldn’t be sentenced to life without parole
Renee Lincks is pictured in court as a teen accused of tying the father-of-two to a tree and taking turns in battering him with a baseball bat before setting him on fire
Surveillance footage shows the deadly trio purchasing the meat cleaver that was used to cut Cordell Richard’s throat in 1999
Lincks was never charged with murder because she gave testimony stating that Bell and Maestas plotted the killing and bought the rope and chain beforehand.
However portions of her account were later contested by Maestas, who decided to give testimony post-sentence in an attempt to win favor in any future clemency petition.
She stated that Lincks had demanded PIN numbers from Richards while he was being beaten – and that she was the first to suggest burning him alive.
Maestas also said that when Bell cut Richards’ throat, Lincks quizzed him as to whether he had cut deep enough.
Public records state that Lincks was released from prison on February 1, 2012 and there is nothing to suggest she has ever reoffended.
A Facebook post taken one year later showed her hanging out poolside with a group of girlfriends, drinking beer and liquor.
In recent years she appears to have settled down with a female partner with whom she jointly bought a three-bedroom family home last June for $205,000.
The 5ft 3in former offender now works for a maintenance company and shares her love of dogs on social media.
In a grim irony, the Ford F150 truck she drives has a large decal on the back window paying tribute to fallen US servicemen.
‘The United States flag does not fly because the wind moves past it,’ the sign reads. ‘The United States flag flies from the last breath of each military member who has died protecting it.’
Cordell Richard’s mother Ruby Richards and Cordell’s daughter Rei Richards embrace in court last week after the two killers were jailed for life
The re-sentencing of Bell and Maestas – who have spent more than half their lives behind bars – was ordered because of a 2012 US Supreme Court ruling that banned mandatory life-without-parole sentences.
The 5-4 decision gave thousands of juvenile lifers across the US a shot at release but Okaloosa County Circuit Court Judge William Stone slammed the cell door shut on the duo’s hopes of freedom.
Bell was re-sentenced to life in prison for first degree murder and slapped with a consecutive life term for kidnapping with a weapon.
Maestas, the only one of the trio who has ever contacted the Richards family to express remorse, will serve life plus 30 years consecutive for the kidnapping.
‘I know that a lot of people might want to look at this like it’s a celebration because they are behind bars and they are never coming out,’ Rei told DailyMail.com.
‘Yes, it feels good that justice has been done but this will always be a massive loss for us that we will never recover from. We lost a father, a son, a brother.
‘I’m never going to have my father walk me down the aisle, I’m never going to get to introduce him to his grandchildren. Having them behind bars will never give me back my dad.’