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Published: Thursday, September 12, 2019 @ 2:52 PM
Updated: Friday, September 13, 2019 @ 5:42 AM
— The jury in the Carlisle buried baby trial has found Brooke Skylar Richardson not guilty on the charges of aggravated murder, involuntary manslaughter, and child endangering.
Richardson was found guilty of abuse of a corpse.
Sentencing has been set for Friday at 11 a.m.
Richardson was in the office of her defense attorneys while the jury deliberated, said attorneys Charles H. and Charles M. Rittgers in a news conference after the verdict was announced.
Richardson had her mouth open slightly and was breathing heavily as the verdict was read. Once the judge read that she was not guilty on the charge of involuntary manslaughter, attorney Charles M. Rittgers put his arm around her shoulder, and as the judge said she was not guilty of child endangerment, she began to cry.
She put her shaking hand to her mouth and continued to cry. As she was put in handcuffs to be led away to spend the night in jail before her sentencing, she said, “I love you,” to her family members sitting behind her.
Her attorneys met with reporters in the hallway outside the courtroom afterward.
“This is ... well, as her attorney, and knowing other cases throughout the country, this was well over-charged from the get go,” Charles H. Rittgers said.
The attorneys were asked what will happen with Richardson moving forward.
“She has worked in our office since this came up, and hopefully she’ll be able to go to college,” Charles H. Rittgers said.
She started classes and completed one semester at Sinclair Community College, Charles H. Rittgers said.
Warren County Prosecutor David Fornshell said the inability to prove how the baby died likely was the key point for the jury.
“I think unfortunately that probably played a major factor in the outcome we saw today,” Fornshell said.
Fornshell was asked about statements he made two years ago that prosecutors had evidence the baby’s bones were charred. That opinion was made by a forensic expert hired by the coroner’s office, but that expert later recanted her opinion and said the bones were not charred.
“I reject the idea that somehow we did anything improper,” Fornshell said.
Asked for his reaction to the not guilty parts of the verdict, Fornshell said his office was committed to try a difficult case because they believed Richardson was guilty.
“I do believe she killed her child,” Fornshell said. “I understand there are proof issues.”
He said later, “That baby deserved for us to go in there and fight.”
The jury in the Carlisle buried baby trial of Brooke Skylar Richardson deliberated after eight days of jury selection, evidence, witnesses and closing arguments.
Richardson, 20, faced charges of aggravated murder, involuntary manslaughter, child endangering and abuse of a corpse in the death of her baby on May 7, 2017. A fifth charge of tampering with evidence was dismissed by Warren County Common Pleas Judge Donald Oda II earlier in the trial after he determined the prosecution had not proven its case.
All sides agreed Richardson didn’t tell friends or family about a pregnancy she learned about in April 2017, had a baby in secret and buried her in the backyard.
The prosecution said Richardson, then an 18-year-old Carlisle High School senior, had a sexual relationship with an older boy and became pregnant, then broke off the relationship. Nearly nine months later, Richardson learned she was pregnant but did nothing to plan for the baby and never planned to have the child. So on May 7, 2017, prosecutors said, she delivered the infant in secret, killed her and buried her in the backyard. She told no one about her actions.
Defense attorneys said Richardson was a scared teen who delivered a stillborn daughter she named Annabelle then buried her in the yard where she could see the site from a bedroom window. She marked the grave with a pot of flowers. She did not harm her baby, but delivered the small newborn who suffered from growth restriction after a doctor said she was 32 weeks along.
The prosecution rested its case on Monday, and the defense called witnesses over two days. The defense focused on calling witnesses who spoke highly of Richardson, discussed her eating disorder that the defense claims could have affected her ability to know she was pregnant and the health of her baby, provided opinions that the baby was stillborn and claimed Richardson had a mental disorder that caused her to submit to authority figures, like police.
The prosecution, with its witnesses, presented Richardson as a girl who was so afraid of upsetting a demanding mother that she knew she couldn’t keep her baby and killed her so she didn’t have to tell her family.
Both sides focused on a second interrogation video with police on July 20, 2017, during which Richardson says the baby might have been alive when she was born and that she tried to cremate her.
The defense claimed Richardson was pressured into making false admissions.
The case was complicated because a cause of death could not be determined from the remains, and likewise a live birth could not be confirmed by examination of the remains.
The prosecution pointed to Richardson’s actions, text messages and statements to detectives as proof of the live birth. It also noted Richardson’s own actions made sure the baby could not be examined for evidence as it decomposed in the ground while she told no one.
The case took twists and turns through more than two years, including a hearing over medical records at the 12th District Court of Appeals and two requests by the defense for the Ohio Supreme Court to hear its argument.