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Defense: ‘Burned baby’ statements have tainted jury pool in baby case

Published: Tuesday, March 06, 2018 @ 1:04 PM
Updated: Tuesday, March 06, 2018 @ 2:06 PM
By: Lauren Pack - Staff Writer

Arguments previously stricken by Warren County Common Pleas Judge Donald Oda II from the defense motion to move the Brooke Skylar Richardson case out of the county are now part of the case file.

The un-redacted document was filed Monday in which defense attorneys Charles H. and Charles M. Rittgers say a “premature and completely false opinion by the state’s expert forensic anthropologist that Brooke Skylar Richardson’s baby Annabelle was burned before burial ignited a media and social media firestorm.”

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The defense team says the damage is done and a fair trial for the Carlisle teen in Warren County is not possible.

“What started as an 18-year-old high school girl who was frightened and saddened because of giving birth to a stillborn baby whom she named Annabelle and then telling her doctor of the stillbirth and burial in the backyard turned into something sinister and grotesque because of the inaccurate and false opinion by the state’s forensic anthropologist. Although this false opinion was subsequently retracted, the damage remains” the defense team states in the motion.

The defense says the county prosecutor, relying on inaccurate information given to him at the time he presented their case to a grand jury, held a press conference shortly after indictment where remarks about Richardson burning the baby were made.

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Included in the court document are several media reports in which Warren County Prosecutor David Fornshell talks about the burning.

The defense team said when the prosecutor made the statements, he did not know the “facts regarding Skylar’s mental health, eating disorders and fears.”

According to the defense, a state’s forensic anthropologist retracted the first opinion and then the prosecution sought a second opinion.

“The second forensic anthropologist, who was retained by the prosecutor’s office, confirmed that Annabelle was not burned and confirmed there were ‘no signs of burning’ and no trauma ‘that could be related to the cause of death of this individual,’” the defense wrote in the motion. The second forensic anthropologist consulted is Dr. Krista Latham.

Oda has denied the motion for change of venue, ruling voir dire of the potential jurors will have to take place to determine if pre-trial publicity has had any impact on the jury pool.

“Only after the voir dire process will the court and the parties be able to determine the impact, if any, of pretrial publicity. This issue will be revisited in the event a jury cannot be seated,” Oda wrote.

Oda previously issued a gag order stopping public comments by attorneys and parties involved in the case, but that ruling was overturned last week by the 12th District Court of Appeals.

Richardson remains free on a $50,000 bond and under court-ordered house arrest that was a condition of her release. Her trial is scheduled to begin in April.

Warren County Prosecutor David Fornshell declined to comment on the case, and the prosecution will be filing a response soon.