Richard A. Sprague was born in Philadelphia. He received his B.S. from Temple University and his LL.B. from the University of Pennsylvania Law School. After joining the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office in 1958, Sprague served as a Chief Assistant District Attorney, Chief of the Prosecution Division, Chief of the Trial Division and Chief of the Homicide Division. From 1966 to 1974, he was the First Assistant District Attorney of Philadelphia County.
Sprague became a national figure when he successfully prosecuted Tony Boyle, President of the United Mine Workers for the murder of Joseph Yablonski. He also had a record of 69 homicide convictions out of 70 prosecutions.
In 1976 Thomas N. Downing began campaigning for a new investigation into the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Downing said he was certain that Kennedy had been killed as a result of a conspiracy. He believed that the recent deaths of Sam Giancana and Johnny Roselli were highly significant. He also argued that the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation had withheld important information from the Warren Commission. Downing was not alone in taking this view. In 1976, a Detroit News poll indicated that 87% of the American population did not believe that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone gunman who killed Kennedy.
Coretta Scott King, was also calling for her husband's murder to be looked at by a Senate Committee. It was suggested that there was more chance of success if these two investigations could be combined. Henry Gonzalez and Walter E. Fauntroy joined Downing in his campaign and in 1976 Congress voted to create a 12-member committee to investigate the deaths of Kennedy and King.
Thomas N. Downing named Sprague as chief counsel of the House Select Committee on Assassinations. Gaeton Fonzi was to later say: "Sprague was known as tough, tenacious and independent. There was absolutely no doubt in my mind when I heard of Sprague's appointment that the Kennedy assassination would finally get what it needed: a no-holds-barred, honest investigation. Which just goes to show how ignorant of the ways of Washington both Sprague and I were".
Sprague quickly assembled a staff of 170 lawyers, investigators and researchers. On 8th December, 1976, Sprague submitted a 1977 budget of $6.5 million. Frank Thompson, Chairman of the House Administration Committee made it clear he opposed the idea of so much money being spent on the investigation.
Smear stories against Sprague began appearing in the press. David B. Burnham of The New York Times reported that Sprague had mishandled a homicide case involving the son of a friend. Members of Congress joined in the attacks and Robert E. Bauman of Maryland claimed that Sprague had a "checkered career" and was not to be trusted. Richard Kelly of Florida called the House Select Committee on Assassinations a "multimillion-dollar fishing expedition for the benefit of a bunch of publicity seekers."
Probably the most important criticism came from Eldon J. Rudd of Arizona, a former FBI agent who had worked on the assassination investigation, declared the Committee had "already fanned the flames of rumour, distortion and unwanted distrust of law inforcement agencies." However, Walter E. Fauntroy defended the work of Sprague: "threshold inquiries by a thoroughly professional staff... in the last three months have produced literally a thousand questions unanswered by the investigations of record."
On 2nd February, 1978, Henry Gonzalez replaced Thomas N. Downing as chairman of the House Select Committee on Assassinations. Gonzalez immediately sacked Sprague as chief counsel. Sprague claimed that only the full committee had the power to dismiss him. Walter E. Fauntroy agreed with Sprague and launched a campaign to keep him as chief counsel. On 1st March, Gonzalez resigned describing Sprague as "an unconscionable scoundrel"
Louis Stokes of Ohio was now appointed as the new chairman of the House Select Committee on Assassinations. After a meeting with Stokes on 29th March, Sprague agreed to resign and he was replaced by G. Robert Blakey.
Sprague later told Gaeton Fonzi that the real reason he was removed as chief counsel was because he insisted on asking questions about the CIA operations in Mexico. Fonzi argued that "Sprague... wanted complete information about the CIA's operation in Mexico City and total access to all its employees who may have had anything to do with the photographs, tape recordings and transcripts. The Agency balked. Sprague pushed harder. Finally the Agency agreed that Sprague could have access to the information if he agreed to sign a CIA Secrecy Agreement. Sprague refused.... "How," he asked, "can I possible sign an agreement with an agency I'm supposed to be investigating?"
A senior partner with the Philadelphia law firm of Sprague & Sprague, he continued is engaged in general, civil and criminal practice; state and federal litigation; antitrust and corporate litigation; and trial and appellate practice. He also served as special counsel to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court Judicial Inquiry and Review Board.
Sprague has also served as a voluntary defender in the Defender Association of Philadelphia and has lectured on Trial Tactics in Criminal Trials and Advanced Criminal Procedure at Temple University School of Law.