The defense has called multiple witnesses in the trial of Brooke Skylar Richardson in attempts to show the jury she was forced into making false admissions to police about the death and burning of her baby.
Richardson’s murder trial entered its seventh day on Wednesday in Warren County Common Pleas Court.
Dr. Stuart Bassman, a psychologist who examined Richardson, testified Wednesday that she has a mental disorder that causes her to be predisposed to complying with authority. That supports the defense’s assertions that she made false statements to police during a pivotal second interrogation in the case, held July 20, 2017.
The prosecution says that Richardson had a baby in secret after concealing her pregnancy on May 7, 2017, killed the baby and then buried her in the backyard.
The defense claims the baby was delivered stillborn in a toilet in an upstairs bathroom and that Richardson was a scared 18-year-old who didn’t want her family to know she was pregnant and had a baby.
In the second interrogation, investigators pushed Richardson to admit she killed and burned her baby. They had been told by a forensic pathologist that the baby’s remains were charred, although the pathologist later recanted that belief.
The defense claims police were overzealous in questioning Richardson because they believed at the time she burned her baby.
Bassman said Richardson “was not able to defend herself” in that questioning by police, given her dependent personality disorder. Her statements, shown by video to the jury earlier in the week, included:
“She fell. She might have bumped her head a little.”
“I have given you all the truth. I told you about squeezing her and I think I might have killed her.”
“Maybe a little noise. A gurgle” (about hearing noises from her baby after birth).
“A little. I did it a little” (when asked if she tried to cremate her baby).
The prosecution cross-examined Bassman and suggested that she felt a similar fear of her family. Assistant Prosecutor Julie Kraft asked Bassman about stressors that could make Richardson make false statements, and she continued to suggest that Richardson was afraid of her parents, which would cause her to go to any extreme to conceal her baby.
Kraft referred to a study that showed women who kill their babies share some of the same circumstances and traits that Bassman said Richardson possesses.
Bassman’s testimony came a day after the defense called Alan Hirsch, a professor at Williams College who studies interrogations and false confessions. He suggested that police made Richardson feel during the interrogation that she wouldn’t face punishment if she confessed.
“That is very problematic ... it can break down an innocent person,” Hirsch said.
The prosecution suggested in questioning Hirsch that those methods the police were using can also lead to true confessions.
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