Cheerleader‘s ‘grotesque disregard for life’
A former high school cheerleader found not guilty of killing her baby after hiding her pregnancy has escaped further jail time for secretly burying the child in her backyard.
Brooke Skylar Richardson, 20, was acquitted of aggravated murder, involuntary manslaughter and child endangerment charges by a Warren County jury on Thursday in Ohio, US.
She was found guilty on one count of abuse of a corpse - which holds a maximum penalty of one year imprisonment.
In court on Friday, Judge Donald Oda II ordered that Ms Richardson serve three years probation. She was sentenced to seven days in jail, with credit for time already served, rendering her free to go home. If she violates her probation, she can spend up to a year in jail, according to the judge.
"I believe if you had made different decisions, Annabelle would still be here," Mr Oda said of Ms Richardson's dead baby.
"I think that your choices before birth, during birth and after birth show a grotesque disregard for life."
Ms Richardson was 18-years-old when she allegedly told a doctor in 2017 that she gave birth to a stillborn baby girl, 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.
"A BABY THAT SHE CALLED 'IT'"
Prior to the sentencing on Friday, Ms Richardson's father, Scott Richardson, addressed the court and asked for his daughter to be released. "My daughter is suffering from an eating disorder and we are concerned about her health," he said.
The baby's paternal grandmother read an emotional statement to the court.
"Not only did I lose my first grandchild, but my baby boy (Trey Johnson) lost his daughter," she said. "For a baby that she called 'it', we're just as much the family as she is.
"I've watched my son become a different person.
"I won't disclose his medical diagnosis because she's done enough to him. I can personally tell you that I've personally been seen for depression, panic attacks, and I'm a shell of the person I was.
"I would have taken her in with Trey without a question. Now, instead, every May 7, I don't get to have a birthday party for my first grandchild. Instead, I send her balloons to heaven, to tell her how much her daddy loved her, and how much I loved her."
Ms Richardson then addressed the court.
"I would do anything that you ask," she said.
"I can sometimes be selfish, but I'm getting better. I'm forever sorry. I'm so sorry. I've hurt a lot of people."
Assistant Prosecutor Steve Knippen asked the judge to hand down the maximum sentence.
"It is clear from the defendant's actions that she never intended for anyone to even know that her daughter existed or that the skeletal remains would ever be discovered," Mr Knippen said.
He said if it were not for Ms Richardson's doctors who contacted authorities after she admitted to having the baby alone, "that child would still be buried in the backyard of their home without anyone knowing".
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.
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.
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.
In opening statements last week, prosecutors alleged Ms Richardson gave birth alone, buried the baby, disposed of the evidence and kept it a secret from everyone - including her parents.
According to prosecutors, 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.
The court heard that 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.
Her defence team said there was no evidence the baby was born alive.
"She buried her daughter and marked the grave with flowers on top of it. She didn't throw her in a trash can. She didn't throw her in a dumpster," defence lawyer Charlie Rittgers said.
"She was living under this dark cloud for the last two years. Living, quite frankly, a nightmare."
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.