After a two year delay, the murder trial of Brooke Skylar Richardson, 20, has begun. Richardson is an Ohio woman charged in the 2017 death of her baby daughter. The Carlisle resident was 17 years old when she gave birth in her bathroom on May 7, just two days after her prom, then buried the infant’s body in her family’s backyard. The child’s remains were discovered by detectives on July 17.
DNA confirmed that the child was conceived after Richardson, who goes by her middle name Skylar, had a brief relationship in with a young man named Trey Johnson. Johnson, who was the first witness during the trial, testified that the two began seeing each other in 2016. They had sex twice, once unprotected. He added that Richardson never told him she was pregnant.
According to WCPO, the prosecution described Richardson to the jury of five men and seven women as an overachiever, “obsessed with external appearances,” who had no intention of letting an unplanned baby ruin her comfortable life as a cheerleader and National Honor Society student preparing for college. According to Assistant Prosecutor Julie Kraft, rather than tell her family that she was in labor, “Brooke took her own daughter’s life, destroyed all evidence of her birth, and buried her in the back yard.”
Her defense acknowledges that Richardson concealed her pregnancy but insists she gave birth in the middle of the night to a stillborn child she named Annabelle. Too frightened to say anything, she secretly buried the body. “This case is about a massive rush to judgment,” Richardson’s attorney, Charles H. Rittgers, told the jurors.
Here’s what you need to know about the trial of Skylar Richardson.
1. Skylar Richardson’s Gynecologists Told Authorities She’d Buried Her Baby in the Backyard
On July 12, 2017, Richardson allegedly confessed to her gynecologist Dr. Willam Andrew, that she’d given birth to a stillborn baby, then buried the infant in her backyard. After hearing the story, Andrew called colleague Dr. Casey Boyce into the room and the two physicians later reported the baby’s death to the Ohio Department of Public Health. Andrew and Boyce listed the baby’s death as May 7 but left the cause of death blank.
Richardson had seen Andrew several months earlier. In April 2017, she went in to discuss getting a prescription for birth control pills. During that visit, Andrew ran a standard urine test and informed Richardson that she was approximately 32 weeks pregnant. Richardson, who suffered from an eating disorder that caused missed periods, seemed stunned. Family and friends only noticed a slight weight gain but assumed Richardson was eating a healthier diet.
Richardson told Andrew she wasn’t ready to tell her parents she was pregnant. She needed a prescription for birth control to show her mother, who was in the waiting room. Andrew hesitantly gave Richardson the prescription but insisted that she return as soon as possible for prenatal care. Over the next several weeks, Andrews office tried calling Richardson for follow-up exams but never received a response.
2. Skylar Richardson’s Defense Team Said Her Confession Was Forced
Richardson’s defense hinges on what happened between the first and second time she was interrogated by police. During the first interrogation, Richardson admitted to giving birth to a stillborn baby and burying the body in the backyard. No charges were filed after the first round of questioning.
Six days later, Richardson was interrogated again after the prosecution’s doctor said the baby had been born alive and that the body was charred from being set on fire. Richardson denied the allegations 17 times.
Rittgers shared with the jury that authorities told Richardson, “’Look, it will be much better if you just say you cremated your child as opposed to throwing her in the middle of a fire.’” During the final round of questioning, Richardson allegedly broke down and told investigators, “OK, I touched the baby with a lighter and tried to cremate her.”
Cosmopolitan reported that forensic anthropologist Dr. Elizabeth Murray recanted her assessment that the infant’s remains were burned. Another forensic anthropologist, Dr. Krista Latham, said there were “no signs of burning” or evidence of trauma “that could be related to the cause of death of this individual.”
3. The Prosecutor Chose Not to Seek the Death Penalty
Skylar Richardson was initially charged in 2017 with reckless homicide. Charges have been amended and she is currently facing aggravated murder, involuntary manslaughter, gross abuse of a corpse, tampering with evidence and child endangerment.
According to Warren County Prosecutor David Fornshell, there wasn’t a prosecutor or assistant prosecutor in his office who thought Richardson would receive the death penalty. “There was evidence presented to the grand jury that she purposely caused the death of the child. The grand jury found probable cause that she purposely caused the death of the baby, but that is a far cry proving beyond a reasonable doubt to get the death penalty,” Fornshell told WHO TV7 in 2017.
Fornshell’s office charged Richardson with both aggravated murder and involuntary manslaughter, leaving it up to the jury to decide which is most appropriate if she’s found guilty. Richardson faces 20 years to life if jurors convict her of aggravated murder, and three-10 years if she’s convicted of involuntary manslaughter.
4. Richardson’s Defense Team Attempted to Get Her Doctor-Patient Conversations Thrown Out as Evidence
Richardson’s attorneys asked the 12th District Court of Appeals to consider their client’s conversations with her doctors as confidential. Warren County Common Pleas Judge Donald Oda II had ruled that medical conversations were privileged but Richardson’s confession to the doctors about the baby’s birth and burial in the backyard was not protected.
Prosecutors contended that doctors are mandated to report child neglect or abuse. Last October, the District Court of Appeals sided with prosecutors, ruling that Richardson’s discussions with her doctors were admissible as evidence, WCPO reported. Richardson’s defense team filed an appeal with the State Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case.
5. Several Organizations Have Concerns About Prosecuting Skylar Richardson
Several groups, including The Ohio Now Education and Legal Fund, National Advocates for Pregnant Women, Sia Legal Team, National Perinatal Association, Center for Reproductive Rights, and National Association of Perinatal Social Workers, supported Rittger’s efforts to protect the conversations between Richardson and her doctors. The groups believe that if the Court of Appeals ruling stands, could place all women and their healthcare providers in an adversarial relationship Cincinnati.com reported.
According to the organizations, Richardson’s case could potentially deter pregnant women from speaking openly with health care providers. “(The advocates) are gravely concerned that allowing the Twelfth District ruling to stand would undermine public health and the constitutional rights of women in Ohio,” attorney David M. Thomas wrote in support of the appeal, the Dayton Daily News noted.