Both the defense and prosecution are appealing a split decision handed down by the trial judge, Donald Oda II.
At issue: Should the doctors of Richardson be allowed to testify at her murder trial? That was at the heart of two appeals argued Tuesday at the 12th District Court of Appeals in Middletown.
KEY POINTS IN THE CASE:
- Brooke Syklar Richardson faces charges of aggravated murder, involuntary manslaughter, gross abuse of a corpse, tampering with evidence and child endangering in the death of her infant daughter.
-Prosecutors and defense lawyers today argued their legal challenges to an appeals court, seeking to overturn portions of a lower court’s split ruling about medical records days before the Richardson trial had been set to start.
-Richardson’s defense team wanted today’s oral arguments closed to the public, but judges denied that request.
-The trial is on hold until the appeals court rules.
Judge 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 argues 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 say 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.
Defense attorney Charlie H. Rittgers comments after arguments at the 12th District Court of Appeals.
But defense attorney Neal Schuett argued there was no evidence of harm presented to the doctors, just Richardson saying she had a stillborn birth.
“The child abuse statute requires there be knowledge or reason to suspect (abuse) based on facts that there was harm or imminent harm about to occur,” Schuett said.
Kirsten Brant with the Warren County Prosecutor’s Office argued that statements Richardson made to multiple people about what she talked about with her doctors constitutes a waiver of doctor-patient privilege.
“The defendant disclosed the details of virtually everything that happened at those doctor’s appointments to multiple people, to detectives, to her mother, to her father and most recently to a reporter,” said Brant.
Brant also said the then-18-year-old high school senior indicated to doctors she never had any intention of having the baby.
That statement drew a strong reaction from Charlie H. Rittgers, Richardson’s trial attorney who was at the hearing but did not argue the appeal.
“That is a total fabrication,” Rittgers said after the hearing.
Richardson did nothing to prepare for the baby, then told doctors she had the baby in secret, did not wake her parents for help, buried the baby in the backyard and “cleaned up the mess,” Brandt said. “She (Richardson) is using patient-doctor privilege as a sword to escape liability.”
The three-judge panel questioned the attorneys multiple times during the 40-minute hearing — 20 minutes for each side. What the panel's opinions might be, at this point, aren’t known, but one question from Judge Robert Hendrickson to Schuett seemed telling when it came to the topic about "reasonable suspicion" of abuse or neglect.
“It’s not normal for someone to bury an infant in the backyard. You usually go to the hospital or medical personnel… this is kind of extreme so why wouldn’t there be reasonable suspicion?” asked Hendrickson.
“Those statutory definitions have not been met in this case. Doctor (Casey) Boyce was told that a fetus occurred in a still death and was buried in the backyard … no knowledge or reason to believe, based on fact, that would cause a reasonable doctor to suspect that there had been harm,” said Schuett.
Judge Robert Ringland probed further, “But isn’t that circumstantial evidence that there is neglect? As Judge Hendrickson said, ‘It’s kind of unusual to bury a baby in the backyard.’”
“I agree that there might be a concern but again based on facts they (the doctors) did not have knowledge or facts in front of them…the only facts they had was that it was a stillbirth that happened two months prior,” answered Schuett.
Because this is a expedited appeal, the appellate court has 60 days to issue a decision. Presiding Judge Stephen Powell did call the case a serious matter and said the court would render an opinion as expeditiously as possible.
Neither Richardson nor her family were in attendance for the hearing.
This article contains additional reporting by our news partner WCPO.