Did judge illegally strike memo from court record in teen mom baby murder case?

Warren County Prosecutor David Fornshell discussing the case last year. (FOX19 NOW/file)
Warren County Prosecutor David Fornshell discussing the case last year. (FOX19 NOW/file)

LEBANON, OH (FOX19) - Did a local judge illegally delete a defense attorney's memo about a high profile murder case from the court record?

Our media partner at the Cincinnati Enquirer thinks so. Their lawyer has asked an appeals court to order Warren County Common Pleas Court Judge Donald Oda, to put it back.

"Exercise of such power is unlawful...and in no way complies with Ohio (law) and is legally defective," wrote Jack Greiner in a motion filed last week.

The court is expected to issue a decision by the end of March, Greiner said.

The case involves Carlisle cheerleader and mother, Skylar Richardson.

The former high school cheerleader, 18, is accused of killing her newborn baby, burning the remains in the family's fire pit and then burying the remains in the backyard.

Richardson was indicted last year on charges of aggravated murder, involuntary manslaughter, gross abuse of a corpse, tampering with evidence and child endangering.

The judge issued the gag order in August after Warren County Prosecutor David Fornshell confirmed the victim was was a baby girl.

Last month, Richardson's attorney, Charlie Rittgers, requested a change of venue to move the trial out of the county.

When Rittgers filed the motion, he attached a four page memo.

But the judge ordered the memo stricken from the court record. He described it as "inflammatory and prejudicial."

Oda also wrote in court records the filing referred to Richardson's mental state, expert witnesses and "a self-serving recitation of a facts."

Last week, the Court of Appeals Twelfth Appellate District of Ohio overturned Oda's gag order on the case at the newspaper's request.

"To presume that there may be news coverage that threatens the administration of justice, whether that be against the state or the defendant, is nothing more than pure speculation," reads the court opinion.

But the memo remains stricken from the record.

When we asked workers at Warren County Clerk of Court about the memo Friday, they referred us to the judge' office.

On Monday, a woman who answered the phone in the judge's office said it was her "understanding" the memo was "shredded."

That's troubling because it appears to be illegal, said defense attorney Josh Engel.

The former Warren County assistant prosecutor ran the Appellate division for five years.

"What the judge should have done was placed it under seal," Engel said.

"If it's under seal, it's still available for the public and the court of appeals to look at it at some point in the future."

Engel expressed surprise that the memo may have been destroyed and said that might be "problematic."

"It rarely happens because courts will place such documents under seal," he said. "I've never seen this happen because courts normally place such documents under seal."

Richardson remains free on a $50,000 bond and under court-ordered house arrest that was a condition of her release.

Her trial is scheduled to begin in April.

The case was to return in court on Monday, March 5, but was rescheduled for March 14.

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