Both sides presented their closing arguments this morning in the murder trial of Brooke Skylar Richardson, and the jury has begun its deliberations.
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The trial is on its eighth day in Warren County Common Pleas Court, and the jurors heard from 28 witnesses over the six days of testimony and evidence presentation that followed the jury selection.
Richardson, 20, is charged with aggravated murder, involuntary manslaughter, child endangering and abuse of a corpse in the death of her baby on May 7, 2017. The trial has garnered national attention, which raises the stakes for this morning’s closing arguments.
Assistant prosecutor Julie Kraft began for the prosecution. She continued to stress that Richardson did not make plans to care for the baby after she was born, which prosecutors say means she wasn’t going to keep the baby, even if she had to kill it.
“She was never going to see the light of day,” Kraft said.
Kraft told the jury that investigators can take evidence of Richardson's own statements and her actions before and after the birth as proof the baby was alive at birth.
Defense attorney Charles M. Rittgers began his closing argument with one of the defense’s main points: That the police were overzealous in interrogating Richardson and pursuing the case because of a report they received early that the baby’s bones were charred. The forensic specialist who first made that determination later said she was wrong and that wasn’t true.
“They knew this cremation story was false,” Rittgers said.
Rittgers walked the jury through the definition of reasonable doubt and burden of proof, using an example of a cat and a mouse in a box and what they could determine beyond reasonable doubt if they walked away, returned, saw a hole in the box and the mouse gone. Did the cat eat the mouse, or did it escape?
“One reason to doubt is a not guilty verdict on those top three counts, as it relates to live birth,” he said.
Rittgers told the jury it’s not proper to consider the fact that Richardson did not testify in her own defense.
After Rittgers finished, Assistant Prosecutor Steven Knippen gave a closing argument. He discussed Richardson’s text messages to her mother and her then-boyfriend in the hours after the birth that described how happy she was feeling. That underlined a prosecution point that Richardson never intended to keep her baby after she learned she was pregnant, even if she had to kill it, so she would not feel remorse in the hours after.
“She had an image of a perfect life,” said Knippen, who added that Richardson was willing to take extreme actions to keep it that way.
All sides agree Richardson hid a pregnancy she learned about in April 2017, had a baby in secret and buried her in the backyard. The prosecution says Richardson killed the baby, while the prosecution claims she was stillborn.
A notable difference on Thursday morning was that Richardson’s mother, Kim, was in the courtroom for the first time during the trial. She had not been in the courtroom because it was possible she could be called as a witness to discuss evidence. Richardson’s father, Scott, was allowed to be in court even though he testified because he was a “victim’s advocate” witness.
The prosecution rested its case on Monday, and the defense called witnesses over two days. The defense focused on calling witnesses who spoke highly of Richardson, discussed her eating disorder that the defense claims could have affected her ability to know she was pregnant and the health of her baby, provided opinions that the baby was stillborn and claimed Richardson had a mental disorder that caused her to submit to authority figures, like police.
The prosecution, with its witnesses, presented Richardson as a girl who was so afraid of upsetting a demanding mother that she knew she couldn’t keep her baby and killed her so she didn’t have to tell her family.
Both sides focused on a second interrogation video with police on July 20, 2017, during which Richardson says the baby might have been alive when she was born and that she tried to cremate her.
The defense claims Richardson was pressured into making false admissions.
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