Trial of woman accused of burying baby begins

UPDATE: Jury selected for Carlisle buried baby trial

A jury was selected before the day’s proceedings were finished in front of many local and national media members. Three alternates will also be selected.

Follow our reporter in the courtroom:

INITIAL REPORT

The trial of a Carlisle woman accused of killing her newborn in 2017 and burying her in her parents’ backyard begins today with jury selection in Warren County Common Pleas Court.

But the opening process is really not a matter of selection, but more of an elimination of potential jurors who may not be favorable to either side, according to attorneys.

Both Charles H. Rittgers, attorney for Brooke Skylar Richardson, and Warren County Prosecutor David Fornshell agree the selection of a jury can make or break a trial, and this trial is one of the most notable in recent area memory.

 

Richardson, now 20, is charged with aggravated murder, involuntary manslaughter, endangering children, tampering with evidence and abuse of a corpse. Motions and appeals have delayed the trial multiple times, and it comes more than two years after investigators first found the baby’s remains in the Carlisle backyard.

“You are trying to determine if a juror has potentially has something in their background that would prevent them from being fair and impartial,” Rittgers said. “But it is not about selecting, it is an elimination of those who we think can’t be impartial in a particular case.”

Prospective jurors are selected randomly from a pool of registered voters. 

“You don’t get to pick, they roll the way they roll,” Fornshell said. “They put the first 12 in the box (jury box) and you start eliminating those who you think may not be able to at the end of the day set aside a bias.”

CATCH UP ON THE CASE

• Stillborn or alive? That's the key issue in the Carlisle buried baby trial

• More than 2 years of twists and turns lead to Carlisle buried baby trial this week

But that can be a challenge. While each side can excuse or eliminate four potential jurors for any reason in a felony case, they must weigh if it is worth it, given the next potential juror to be seated.

“We have certainly put a considerable amount of effort in terms of what we don’t want to see in a juror,” Fornshell said.

The prosecutor said it is “a heck of a lot easier” to the defense to find the right jury mix because they potentially only need one or two jurors to hold out against conviction and convince the others.

“We need all 12. It has to be unanimous,” Fornshell said.

The jury box in Warren County Common Pleas Judge Donald Oda II where the jury with hear the evidence in the Brooke Skylar Richardson murder trial. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF
Video: Staff Writer

Rittgers and the defense team have twice requested a change of venue because of pretrial publicity, which has at times been intense during the past two-plus years.

“The media exposure of this case to the people of Warren County relative to its size favors a change of venue,” the attorneys wrote in one of their motions asking for a change of venue.

“As demonstrated by the voluminous, documented instances of coverage attached as exhibits to this motion, Warren County has been bombarded with video, print, internet, and social media coverage that in the modern era dwarfs what was possible at the time (of a 1963 court case cited by defense).”

The extensive documentation included tweets from local and national media reporting on the case for more that two years. There were links to national and local news stories, including those produced by the Journal-News, and other social media posts, including from the Facebook page “Justice for Carlisle Baby.”

Judge Donald Oda twice denied the change of venue request, saying an examination of potential jurors must first take place to determine if pre-trial publicity has had any impact on the jury pool.

“The key is can the jurors set aside what they have seen and heard in the media and decide a case solely on what they hear in the courtroom,” Fornshell said. “It does not rest on people who are completely ignorant on what they have heard in the media.”

Fornshell said that, in his experience, jurors take their duty very seriously.

“The gravity of a murder trial tends to focus people on their responsibilities as juror and what happens in the courtroom,” he said.

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