Cheerleader’s tears over murder verdict
A former American high school cheerleader has been found not guilty of the "sinister and grotesque" murder of her newborn daughter who she buried in her parents' backyard.
Brooke Skylar Richardson, 20, burst into tears as a Warren County jury acquitted her of aggravated murder, involuntary manslaughter and child endangerment charges on Thursday in Ohio, US.
She was found guilty on one count of abuse of a corpse and will return to court for sentencing tomorrow. The maximum penalty for the latter charge is one year but she could get probation.
Her parents cried in the front row of the court as the verdict was delivered. "We love you so much," her mother said to her. "We love you, baby."
Ms Richardson was 18-years-old when she allegedly told a doctor in 2017 that she gave birth to a stillborn baby, who she named "Annabelle", and buried it in the backyard at her parents' home in the village of Carlisle, just north of Cincinnati.
The physician reported the incident to police who soon located the child's remains.
Ms Richardson was later charged with aggravated murder, involuntary manslaughter, gross abuse of a corpse, tampering with evidence and child endangering and pleaded not guilty.
The former Ohio high school cheerleader gave birth in the bathroom at her family home on May 1, 2017. It was just a few days after her senior prom and weeks before she was set to start college. Her parents and friends said she hid the pregnancy from them.
Assistant Prosecutor Julie Kraft said Ms Richardson didn't tell anyone when she gave birth to her daughter.
"Brooke took her own daughter's life, destroyed all evidence of her birth and buried her in the backyard," Ms Kraft said.
But she returned to her doctor for birth control a few weeks later where she arose suspicion.
According to her legal team, Ms Richardson kept quiet because she didn't realise she was due so soon, and her response was normal for a scared teenager.
Defence lawyer Charles M. Rittgers also pointed to inaccuracies in the investigation.
Prosecutors initially reported the body had been burned, but additional forensic analysis concluded it was not.
Mr Rittgers said the state failed to mention a detective in the case wrote in a police report that Ms Richardson torched the baby with a lighter and flames went up to the baby's chest.
"Although they gave a press release about it, but they don't have the guts to come in here right off the bat and say that they were wrong about it," he said.
In opening statements last week, prosecutors said the evidence would still show that Ms Richardson gave birth alone, buried the baby, disposed of the evidence and kept it a secret from everyone - including her parents.
It was alleged Ms Richardson "purposely" caused the baby's death, saying the family was "obsessed" with external appearances and wanted to prevent a potential interruption of their lives.
According to prosecutors, Ms Richardson had an "extreme" reaction after being told she was pregnant and did not return for follow-up prenatal visits.
Defense Atty Charles M Rittgers "The detective in this case wrote in a police report that Skylar touched a baby with a lighter and the flames, the baby catches on fire, the flames go up to the babies chest. They fail to mention that in the report...(1/2) @WCPO pic.twitter.com/CnUNvc8wLB— Ally Kraemer (@AllyKraemer) September 3, 2019
County prosecutor David Fornshell previously said Ms Richardson and her family had been worried about the community's reaction to her out-of-wedlock pregnancy.
"Skylar and her family, particularly her mother, were pretty obsessed with external appearances and how things appeared to the outside world," he said.
"You have a situation where, you know, she's a cute high school, recent high school graduate; she was a cheerleader described (as) a good girl by her lawyer as you heard after the arraignment.
"And I think that kind of perception is one that Skylar wanted to perpetuate and her mother wanted to perpetuate."
Another physician called police after Ms Richardson came in months later and told her she had "gone into labour, delivered a stillborn baby and buried the baby in her backyard," according to court papers.
Her lawyers accused prosecutors of creating "a false narrative" to sensationalise the case.
"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 stillborn and burial in the backyard turned into something sinister and grotesque," one of her representatives told the court.
Ms Richardson had been under house arrest for more than a year after a judge ordered a curfew of 9pm to 7am, random home visits and for her to be subject to GPS monitoring.