A call in July 2017 from a doctor’s office to Carlisle police about a possible stillborn baby led investigators to the Eagle Ridge Drive house of Brooke Skylar Richardson.
Remains of a baby were found in the backyard of the residence where the then-18-year-old high school senior lived with her parents and brother.
The discovery was the beginning of a case spanning more than two years that is scheduled to end this month with the trial of Richardson, now 20.
The trial begins Tuesday with jury selection from a pool of 70 prospective jurors and is scheduled to last three weeks. Richardson has been free on bond since arraignment on the indictment in August 2017. Warren County Common Pleas Judge Donald Oda II set bond at $50,000.
Richardson, a former cheerleader who planned to attend the University of Cincinnati, gave birth on or about May 6 or 7, 2017, just days after her senior prom, then buried the baby the defense says she named Annabelle in the backyard and apparently told no one.
After investigators searched the house and grounds twice, Richardson was charged with reckless homicide. She appeared in Franklin Municipal Court for arraignment on July 21, 2017 and posted $16,000 bond.
Richardson was indicted on the charges she now faces at trial: aggravated murder, involuntary manslaughter, child endangering, abuse of a corpse and tampering with evidence. She could serve a 20 years to life in prison if convicted for aggravated murder.
The defense team of Charles H. and Charles M. Rittgers say the baby was stillborn and Richardson, who was scared and suffered from an eating disorder, did nothing to harm the child. She took the the stillborn child and buried it, they said.
“She didn’t drink. She wasn’t a partier or a smoker. By all measures a very good girl who helped children … She’s by all means a very good person,” Charles M. Rittgers said after Richardson’s arraignment in municipal court in 2017.
But Warren County prosecutors say the baby was alive when she was born at about 38 weeks to 40 weeks. The cause of death remains a question.
“We may never know the medical cause of the baby’s death,” said Warren County Prosecutor David Fornshell at a press conference after the indictment was announced.
“Certainly it would be substantially easier if we could come in and say what the medical cause of death is, but that was made impossible or nearly impossible when she burned and buried the body.”
Fornshell admitted in 2017, “I think it is going to be a challenge at the trial phase, because we don’t have that medical cause of death.”
Warren County Coroner Dr. Russell Uptegrove told this news outlet in August 2017 that investigators “ may never be able to tell, in a vacuum through science, how the baby died due to the condition of the remains, unfortunately.”
Despite the aggravated murder charge, Fornshell said in 2017 that the death penalty was not part of the punishment that was presented to the grand jury.. None of those in the prosecutor’s office who reviewed the case believed successfully getting the death penalty was possible, he said.
“This whole discussion was had in my office, and there wasn’t a single prosecutor or assistant prosecutor that looked at this case and believed that this was one where we would be likely to obtain the death penalty,” Fornshell said.
Richardson was also indicted on a much lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter for the alleged death of the baby.
“So, depending on how you interpret the evidence, you can assign different levels of mental culpability to action or inaction,” Fornshell said. “(You can say) I think this was a purposeful killing, I think this was a somebody who at a minimum was reckless in terms of their care, or lack thereof, of a newborn child because they did not want the child.”
From the beginning, the defense team said their client did nothing wrong.
Minutes after Richardson was arraigned, Charles M. Rittgers said, “I can tell you Brooke Skylar Richardson did not kill her baby.”
The 2017 arraignment and impromptu press conference in the lobby that day, along with a fervor of social media coverage, prompted the judge to issue a gag order for parties in the case It was lifted a few months later after the order was challenged by local media.
Statements Richardson made to doctors and to police during several hours of interrogation are expected be presented by the prosecution as evidence of homicide.
The defense has spent two years, including an appeal to the 12th District Court of Appeals and two pleas to the Ohio Supreme Court, working to make medical records and statements Richardson made to doctors in admissible at trial.
Defense attorneys filed a notice of appeal just days before Richardson’s trial was scheduled to begin in April 2018, which delayed the trial.
During oral arguments in December 2018 at the 12th District court in Middletown, a prosecutor said Richardson told her doctor that she had no intention of having her baby.
Oda ruled that doctor-patient privilege did not apply to anything Richardson said about burying the infant’s remains. However, Oda ruled that another conversation Richardson had with a different doctor was privileged. Her defense team argued that all of her conversations with her doctors about her pregnancy or what may have happened afterward are covered under doctor-patient privilege.
Warren County prosecutors said a conversation Richardson had with one of her doctors — that she buried the remains in the backyard, which prompted him to call police — is not privileged because of a doctor’s duty to report abuse, neglect or other harm to a child.
But the defense attorney for the appeal, Neal Schuett, argued there was no evidence of harm presented to the doctors, just Richardson saying she had a stillborn birth.
Kirsten Brant with the Warren County Prosecutor’s Office argued that statements Richardson made to multiple people about what she discussed with her doctors constitutes a waiver of doctor-patient privilege. Brant also said Richardson indicated to doctors she never had any intention of having the baby.
That statement drew a strong reaction from Charlie H. Rittgers, who was at the hearing but did not argue the appeal.
“That is a total fabrication,” Rittgers said after the hearing.
Ultimately, the appellate court sided with the prosecution, and the jury can hear the statements between doctors and Richardson.
In a flurry of motions leading up to the trial, the defense asked for three separate trials on four different charges, a change of venue, and that the case be dismissed because a forensic anthropologist who originally said the baby’s remains were charred, which apparently was heard by by the grand jury, changed her opinion
All were denied by Oda, who also denied a request by the defense for the jury to view, in person, Richardson’s Carlisle home.
Richardson was interrogated by police on July 14, 2017 and July 20, 2017 for a total of about eight and a half hours. The jury is expected to hear approximately three hours of those videos.
In an order filed last week, Oda said he had reviewed the videos, and each contain an extended amount of time where police are not talking with Richardson.
“At times, the defendant interacts with the officers other times she interacts with her parents and there area long periods of time when nothing is happening in the interview room,” Oda said in the order.
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