More than two years after her arrest, Carlisle’s Brooke Skylar Richardson walked into a Warren County courtroom Tuesday morning for one of the most anticipated trials in recent area memory.
Richardson was 18 and a high school senior when she was charged with aggravated murder, involuntary manslaughter, child endangering, tampering with evidence and gross abuse of a corpse for allegedly killing her newborn and burying her in the backyard.
Richardson has been free on $50,000 bond while awaiting trial.
The first day began early with potential jurors waiting when doors at the county justice center opened at 7:30 a.m. The parking lot and a lobby of the courthouse were crowded with both local and national media.
A jury was selected by the end of the day’s proceedings.
Assistant prosecutors and the defense team were given eight minutes each to address prospective jurors Tuesday morning, which provided a glimpse of the case for each side. The prosecution says Richardson had a baby in secret, “took her daughter’s life,” and then buried her. The defense says that the baby was stillborn and that investigators were too aggressive in questioning Richardson after an expert witness — who later recanted her testimony — said the baby’s bones were charred.
In August 2016, Richardson had a sexual relationship with “a young man she had been dating for a month,” said Assistant Prosecutor Julie Kraft. In April 2017, Richardson was told by a doctor that she was pregnant, according to the prosecutor.
“Upon learning she was pregnant, Brooke burst into tears and told the doctors she could not have this child and she didn’t tell anyone about being pregnant,” Kraft said.
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She noted Richardson did not tell her parents, her friends or the baby’s father.
“On May 7, 2017 (Richardson) gave birth to a daughter in the middle of the night in her house. Upon realizing she was going into labor, she still told no one,” Kraft said.
Richardson did not tell her parents, who were asleep downstairs, or her brother, who was in the bedroom across from hers, Kraft said.
“She took her daughter’s life, destroyed all evidence of her birth,” Kraft said.
For more than two months, the baby’s body decomposed in the ground, and Richardson still told no one, Kraft said. It was not until July 2017 that Richardson broke her silence, according to prosecutors. When seeking a refill of birth control, the doctor confronted Richardson about the baby, Kraft said.
“Brooke broke down told her (doctor) she had the baby and buried her in the backyard,” Kraft said.
The defense team, for which attorney Charles M. Rittgers spoke, told the jury thatthe prosecution’s case is all based on a second interrogation of Richardson when investigators forced a statement from her.
“The second interrogation of Skylar, that is what the entire case is about,” Rittgers said
In the first interrogation, Richardson said she had a stillborn baby and buried her in that backyard, he said. There were no charges filed, and Richardson was not arrested.
“There were six days between the two interrogations,” Rittgers said.
He added that during that time, a prosecution doctor said the baby’s bones were charred from being burned. The defense later said in a motion that the prosecution’s witness recanted that testimony about the bones being charred.
“They (investigators) were told to go get a confession that she burned her baby and the baby was born alive,” Rittgers said.
In the second interrogation, “They broke Skylar down. (They) told her this is a medical certainty that there is burning in this case. You will be able to see with your own eyes that she is utterly confused by this conversation,” Rittgers said.
“And they say, ‘Look Skylar,’ as they hold her hand and pretend to her friend, ‘Look, it will be much better if you just say you cremated your child as opposed to throwing her in the middle of a fire,’” Rittgers said
She denies the burning 17 times in the interrogation, Rittgers said.
Then finally, Richardson told investigators, “OK, I touched the baby with a lighter and tried to cremate her.”
The defense said the baby Richardson named Annabelle was very small, and the doctor believed Richardson was 32 weeks pregnant in April 2017. Richardson believed she had 10 weeks to go to prom and graduate from high school before telling her mother, Rittgers said. But instead she gave birth just days later.
Richardson told investigators the baby was white when born, Rittgers said.