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Skylar Richardson convicted of abusing a corpse

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By Ellen Siefke | Staff Writer

A case that embroiled Warren County for two years ended on Friday when Brooke “Skylar” Richardson was sentenced to seven days in jail and three years of probation after being convicted of abuse of a corpse. She was found not guilty on the three more serious counts: aggravated murder, involuntary manslaughter and child endangerment. The case began in May 2017, when then 18-yearold Richardson secretly gave birth in her family home in Carlisle, Ohio, before burying the child in the backyard. The trial hinged on the circumstances surrounding this moment: The prosecution argued Richardson killed her baby, while the defense argued the baby was stillborn. Prosecutor David Fornshell put forth a largely circumstantial case, relying on the testimony of the OBGYN who first told Richardson she was pregnant, subsequent interviews with police and expert testimony about the baby’s remains. Dr. William Andrew of Hilltop Obstetrics and Gynecology testified that Richardson was determined to be 32 weeks pregnant when he saw her in April 2017. He testified that she reacted with shock, saying she couldn’t have a baby because she was going to college in the fall. Later, Richardson returned to Hilltop to refill her birth control and told Dr. Casey Boyce that she had given birth and buried the child in the backyard. Boyce and Andrew contacted authorities, who then conducted an interview with Richardson and her father, Scott. Richardson said that the baby was stillborn, claiming the child was white, did not move and had no heartbeat. She said she panicked and buried the body in the backyard. After this initial interview, county coroner Dr. Elizabeth Murray concluded the bones showed signs of charring — though she later retracted that opinion. This led to a second interview, in which Richardson seemed to make incriminating statements including that the baby may have been alive and that she may have tried to cremate the body. Fornshell and Assistant Prosecutors Steve Knippen and Julie Kraft argued this second interview, in combination with her reaction to finding out she was pregnant, pointed to Richardson’s guilt. Her pursuit of a “perfect life” led her to kill her baby, they claimed. The defense, consisting of Charles Rittger, Sr., and Charles Rittger, Jr., countered that Richardson’s baby was stillborn. An expert pathologist testified that her description of the child in her interview with police was consistent with a stillbirth. Richardson’s mental health played a role in the defense’s case as well. Dr. Stuart Bassman said that sexual abuse at age 12, an eating disorder, her mother’s obsession with appearances and a dependent personality disorder left her vulnerable to manipulation by police, which would explain her seemingly incriminating statements. The defense also argued that her reactions to the pregnancy and birth showed terror, not intent to kill. The deciding factor in the case was the lack of physical evidence. Because the remains of the baby were only bones, there was no way to determine an exact cause of death. The prosecution’s experts testified that the cause of death was “homicidal violence,” whereas the defense’s experts testified the remains showed no signs of trauma that could have caused the death. In the end, the jury returned a not guilty verdict on the three most serious charges, only convicting Richardson of abuse of a corpse. Fornshell admitted that the lack of physical evidence was most likely the reason jurors could not convict Richardson. Richardson was given credit for time already served and so will not spend any more time in jail. Judge Donald Oda said the fact that she was a first-time offender restricted the sentence he could impose but had harsh words for Richardson. “I think your choices before birth, during birth and after show a grotesque disregard for life,” Oda said. “When I look at this case, that to me is what offends community sensibilities.”