Warren County Common Pleas Judge Donald Oda II has denied the defense’s request for three trials for a Carlisle woman accused of killing her newborn baby girl in 2017 and burying her in her parents’ backyard.
On July 3, two days after Brooke Skylar Richardson was in Warren County Common Pleas Court for a pre-trial hearing, attorneys Charles H. and Charles M. Rittgers filed the motion of severance.
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Richardson is charged with aggravated murder, involuntary manslaughter, endangering children, tampering with evidence and abuse of a corpse.
Today, Oda denied the request, writing that “there is one continuous sequence of events that gives rise to the counts charged in the indictment. There are not multiple victims. There are not multiple criminal acts committed over an extended period of time.”
The defense team requested that the court order one trial for the aggravated murder charge, one trial for involuntary manslaughter and endangering children charges and a third trial for tampering with evidence and abuse of corpse charges.
The defense argued the prosecution has admitted it does not intend to keep its presentation of each offense “simple and direct.”
“Testimony regarding, but not limited to a lack of prenatal care, Ms. Richardson’s initial reaction to Dr. (William) Andrew when she learned she was pregnant and Ms. Richardson’s decision to not tell anyone she was pregnant were all cited by the State on numerous occasions to this court and the Twelfth District Court of Appeals as evidence that it would use to try to meet its burden of proving aggravated murder, involuntary manslaughter, child endangering and abuse of a corpse,” the defense wrote.
The defense argues that trying all the charges together would be prejudicial to Richardson.
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There is “always a danger when several crimes are tried together, the jury may use the evidence cumulatively” and where evidence “upon any one of the charges might not have persuaded (the jurors) of accused’s guilt, the sum of it will convince them as to all,” the defense team wrote in the motion citing case law.
But in the motion in response Assistant Prosecutor Steven Knippen, the state wrote, “In this case, Richardson’s offenses constitute parts of a common scheme or plan and are part of a course of criminal conduct. She delivered her baby in secret in her home, caused the baby’s death, then buried the baby in the backyard.”
The defense does not provide an affirmative proof of prejudice that Richardson would suffer if all counts were tried in a single trial, the prosecution said in the motion. The defense argued the jury is likely to get confused by the charges.
“To the contrary, evidence against Richardson is uncomplicated and straightforward and the jury is capable of segregating the evidence on each count,” Knippen wrote. “The aggravated murder, involuntary manslaughter and endangering children occurred during and after Richardson delivered the baby in secret inside the home. Tampering with evidence and abuse of a corpse occurred after those offenses and for the purpose of concealing those offenses.”
According to prosecutors, the same evidence of all offenses would be admissible at all trials if the court were to order separate trials.
“Richardson’s counsel have suggested that the baby was stillborn. Evidence of Richardson’s reaction to the news of her pregnancy and her statement to Dr. Andrew, her concealment of her pregnancy and her failure to follow through with prenatal care for the baby is all admissible to show her plan and that she acted purposely and recklessly when she committed aggravated murder, involuntary manslaughter and endangering children,” Knippen wrote. “It is also evidence that proves lack of mistake or accident.”
Richardson’s conduct after the birth of the baby by burying her in the backyard and concealing the evidence of the baby’s death is all admissible in trials for the charges before the baby’s death, prosecutors say.
So, if the severance were granted, the prosecution argues the same evidence, with the same witnesses would have to be presented to three different juries.
The judge agreed.
“Count one, two, and three each delineate separate legal theories of the same conduct. There is very little, if any, evidence that would not be presented at all three trials were the Court to grant the motions. Separate trials would invite inconsistent outcomes form different juries based on the same evidence,” Oda said in his ruling.
Both Rittgers and Warren County Prosecutor David Fornshell say this ruling by Oda cannot be appealed, and trial is set for Sept. 3.
But Rittgers said he will file at at least two additional motions before the trial date.
Another pre-trial hearing is set for Aug. 19 ahead of Richardson’s scheduled trial on Sept. 3.
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