LEBANON, Ohio – Did she burn the baby or not?
It’s been a question hanging over jurors in a Warren County courtroom ever since the Brooke Skylar Richardson trial began. And it's a question that's troubled her attorneys for years.
Richardson is charged with aggravated murder and involuntary manslaughter. She is accused of deliberately killing her baby and burying her in the backyard.
“I tried to cremate the baby,” Richardson said after a police interview in 2017.
This was the second time police spoke to her, and this interview would ultimately lead to her arrest.
Video of the interview, which is several hours long, hasn’t been played in court yet. But assistant prosecutor Julie Kraft read a transcript of part of the recording when Richardson’s father walked into the interview room.
“Honey, tell us what happened,” he said.
Richardson, who was 18 at the time, had denied burning her baby several times before that. She also denied deliberately killing her baby.
Her attorneys say she delivered a stillborn child and buried her in the backyard because she didn’t know what else to do.
Prosecutors say she killed her baby, burned her and buried her to hide the evidence. Richardson attended high school prom a few days before giving birth, and she didn’t want anyone to know she was pregnant.
In a police report detailed in court, a detective wrote that Richardson lit her baby’s foot on fire with a lighter. The flames flared up to the baby’s chest before Richardson put them out.
“That’s silly,” said Charlie H. Rittgers, her attorney.
A forensic pathologist who conducted the baby’s autopsy testified on Friday. Rittgers often raised his voice and grew frustrated while questioning her.
He was angry because the doctor was a critical witness for the defense.
Back in 2017, about two months after Richardson buried her baby in the backyard, her OB-GYN called police. Authorities interviewed Richardson and asked her questions about umbilical cords, abortions and placentas.
“I never meant to hurt her,” she said.
“I didn’t kill her,” she said.
“It wasn’t alive,” she said.
Police let her go. But they searched her home and dug up the skeletal remains of her baby. The bones were put in a small body bag and taken to the morgue.
Officials grouped the bones in different categories and eventually put the child back together. When inspecting the rib bones, a forensic anthropologist noticed the ends of the bones were darker than the rest. The police were called, again.
This time, they were told Richardson’s baby had been burned.
Her attorneys said this suggestion turned the case into something much more sinister than it actually was. It also sent authorities back to Richardson, from whom they were desperate to obtain a confession, Rittgers said.
And they did.
Richardson’s attorneys say it was a false one, made by a scared teenager who struggles with an eating disorder and just told police what they wanted to hear.
That’s probably why assistant prosecutor Kraft read a portion of Richardson’s interview after police left her. Without being asked anything by police, the teenager said she tried to cremate her child.
She was talking to her dad.
But Richardson’s attorney said she had already been broken by then. She had told police she might have squeezed her baby too hard, the baby cried and the baby might have been alive for five minutes.
Skylar Richardson: Former cheerleader accused of killing her newborn baby
She also said the baby gurgled, which Rittgers called ridiculous. The attorney said babies that young can't gurgle.
In court Friday, photos of the baby’s bones and reconstructed skeleton were displayed on a television screen a few feet away from Richardson.
She shook while looking at them.
Contributing: Sonia Chopra, Cincinnatti Enquirer. Follow Keith BieryGolick on Twitter: @KBieryGolick
This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Skylar Richardson: Cheerleader accused of killing baby said she 'cremated' her