Ex-cheerleader accused of killing newborn found not guilty on most serious charges

Keith BieryGolick and Cameron Knight, Cincinnati Enquirer

LEBANON, Ohio – A young mother accused of killing her newborn child was found not guilty on Thursday of the most serious charges against her.

Brooke Skylar Richardson, 20, was accused of deliberately killing the child in 2017 and burying the girl in her backyard. After little more than four hours of deliberation, a jury cleared her of that. She sobbed as the verdict was read.

A sheriff's deputy handcuffed Richardson and led her out of the courtroom. She was going to jail, but only for a night.

Neither Richardson nor her family spoke to reporters while leaving the courthouse.

Her attorneys said she had a stillbirth when she was 18 and didn't know what else to do except bury the child.

Richardson had been charged with aggravated murder, involuntary manslaughter, child endangerment, tampering with evidence and gross abuse of a corpse. She was facing the potential of life in prison.

Brooke

A judge dismissed the tampering with evidence charge earlier this week. A jury found her not guilty of all the charges except for gross abuse of a corpse, one of the lesser charges.

Her sentencing is scheduled for Friday morning.

After the verdict, Richardson's attorneys told reporters they don't expect her to serve any jail time. They said she has "done enough time."

Richardson's trial began on Sept. 3. But what she saw as her nightmare really began in 2017.

The 18-year-old cheerleader was in love with her boyfriend and planning to go the University of Cincinnati in the fall. Then, she found out she was pregnant.

And her boyfriend wasn't the father.

Brooke Skylar Richardson trial: Cheerleader told her dad 'I tried to cremate the baby'

Prosecutors said her perfect life was in jeopardy. So she did whatever she could to keep it a secret.

For almost two weeks, jurors heard conflicting testimony, shocking texts and a disputed confession.

Jurors had to decide whether Richardson was a naive, scared and easily manipulated young woman who had a stillbirth and was coerced into confessing to murder – or someone who killed her child because she was obsessed with external appearances.

"Unwanted," said Assistant Warren County Prosecutor Julie Kraft during closing arguments on Thursday. "That's what Brooke Richardson's daughter was."

Richardson's attorneys said her confession to police was coerced. They said investigators relied on scientific evidence that was proved false to bully Richardson.

Initially, a forensic pathologist told authorities the baby was burned. The pathologist later recanted that opinion. Everyone who testified during the trial agreed there was no physical evidence the baby was burned.

Richardson told police she tried to cremate her child with a lighter.

"It's impossible," said defense attorney Charlie M. Rittgers before jurors began deliberating.

Multiple live video feeds inside the media room show Brooke

During closing arguments, Rittgers told jurors about his own wife's pregnancy. He said he was scared and didn't know what the child was supposed to look like – and he wasn't 18.

And he didn't suffer from an eating disorder like Richardson did.

During the trial, a psychologist testified Richardson was sexually abused when she was 12 by a boy she looked up to. This contributed to a "personality disorder" in which she lived to please people and was terrified of rejection.

Her friends and classmates testified that after meals, she would stack plates and silverware. Then, she would grab a napkin and wipe the table clean.

And if her food came out wrong, Richardson wouldn't tell anyone. She didn't want to cause problems.

Her attorneys said this is why she confessed to a crime she didn't commit.

Assistant Warren County Prosecutor Steve Knippen said Richardson never wanted to have a child. He used text messages to make his final pitch to jurors.

"My belly is back," Knippen told jurors on Thursday, referencing a text Richardson sent on the day she buried her child. "That belly was her child. That belly was her daughter with fingers and toes and hair on her head. A child she tossed in the dirt."

When investigators recovered the child, buried near the treeline and marked with a flower pot Richardson could see from her window, there was nothing left but bones.

Prosecutors called it the perfect crime. Her attorneys called it a botched investigation into a troubled teen.

In her police interview, Richardson told police what they wanted to hear, her attorney said. They said things and she repeated them, all while a female detective held her hand.

They told Richardson she wasn't in trouble. But they told her they knew she wasn't telling them everything.

Skylar Richardson: Life becomes tabloid nightmare for family

They told Richardson the child, whom she named Annabelle, was being poked and prodded by doctors. They knew her family wanted to have a proper burial.

And they told Richardson she needed to tell the truth if she ever wanted to get her child back.

"Annabelle has never been returned to her family," Rittgers said in court.

After the verdict, standing in the hallway, Rittgers smiled. He said the family had already bought a burial plot for Annabelle.

He said he was hopeful Richardson would now get her back.

Contributing: Sonia Chopra

This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Brooke Skylar Richardson trial: Not guilty on most serious charges.