WARREN COUNTY, Ohio (FOX19) - The jury has been seated for the trial of a teenager accused of killing and burying her newborn infant in the backyard of her home.
Brooke Skylar Richardson, 20, is facing charges including aggravated murder, involuntary manslaughter, endangering a child, tampering with evidence and gross abuse of a corpse.
Seven women and five men will sit on the jury. Three alternates of two women and one man were selected.
It all began back in May 2017, when Warren County prosecutors believe Richardson, then a teenager, gave birth to a baby girl and killed her.
According to prosecutors, Richardson burned the newborn in the family fire pit then buried the remains in the backyard of her parents’ house.
Before jury selection began, Assistant Warren County Prosecutor Julie Kraft and defense attorney Charlie Rittgers were allowed to give statements to the 70 potential jurors in the courtroom.
Kraft began the day’s statements by sharing a brief overview of what the prosecution plans to present over the course of the trial.
“The state expects that the evidence will show that in August of 2016 Brooke Richardson had a sexual relationship with a guy she had been dating approximately one month," Kraft said. "At the end of that month, Brooke broke off that relationship and stopped talking to him altogether. On April 26, 2017 approximately eight months after she stopped seeing the young man, she was told by her OBGYN that she was pregnant and would be having a child within a matter of weeks. Upon learning she was pregnant Brooke burst into tears and told her doctor she could not have this child and she could not tell anyone about being pregnant. And Brooke told no one.
"She did not tell her parents, her friends, or the baby’s father. The state expects the evidence to show on May 7, 2017, Brooke gave birth to her daughter in the middle of the night, and upon realizing she was going into labor, she still told no one. She did not tell her parents who were asleep downstairs in the same house, or her brother who was across the hall, rather, Brook took her own daughter’s life, destroyed all evidence of her birth, and buried her in the backyard. For over two months, in the summer of 2017, the body of Brooke’s daughter decomposed in her backyard.
"On July 12, 2017, Brooke returned to Hilltop OBGYN to get a refill on her birth control pills. Brooke saw a different doctor this time, however, unbeknownst to Brooke, this new doctor had already been informed of her prior visit, and as a result she confronted Brooke about no longer being pregnant. Brooke broke down and told her she’d had the baby in the middle of the night and buried her in the backyard. Law enforcement was notified regarding this disclosure and during the course of the investigation, the skeletal remains of Brooke’s daughter were found, recovered in the yard behind her home.”
Kraft said once the trial begins, the prosecution will discuss the lack of medical evidence of how her baby died.
“Because Brooke deliberately concealed her daughter’s birth and then buried her remains in the ground where they decomposed for over two months during the summer of 2017, all that was left of her daughter’s body were the skeletal remains,” she said.
Kraft said this was not a situation where the baby was born in the hospital with medical staff present who could examine the child immediately.
She said because the baby was buried and decomposed for two months during the Summer of 2017, an autopsy was not able to be performed.
Richardson concealed and destroyed evidence, making it unavailable for testing, Kraft said.
The assistant prosecutor also told the jury pool they’d be asked their thoughts on abortion, including if they believe in a mother’s right to terminate the life of her child even after its birth.
She assured them this was not a place they’d be judged for their belief, but they were being asked because this was not a case where the rights of whether you ‘are or aren’t allowed to kill your baby’ are being debated.
Kraft reminded the jury pool that Richardson is charged with aggravated murder and that the charge doesn’t change the state’s burden of proof. All they need is proof beyond a reasonable doubt, she said.
Richardson’s attorney Charlie Rittgers spoke to the jury pool last and didn’t hold back in his accusations against the prosecutors office or police involved in the case.
Rittgers accused the prosecutors office of being too afraid to admit they initially accused Richardson of touching her baby with a lighter, which was in a police report that said she caught the baby on fire.
“They didn’t have the guts to come in and say they were wrong,” Rittgers said.
He claims the case is all based on a secondary interrogation by police.
During the first interrogation, he says, Richardson told police she’d had a stillbirth and they decided not to press charges.
“In the six days between the two interrogations, a prosecutor’s doctor, a doctor you’re not going to hear from, said the bones are burnt, the bones are charred; completely different story," he said. "So police are told, ‘go get a confession.’ Go get a confession from a young girl who just turned 18 that she burned her baby and her baby was born alive; much different. Now, what the police don’t know at the time, and nobody did, is that the doctor was wrong. The doctor later told the prosecutor weeks later ‘I was wrong,’ no evidence of burn. That doctor many weeks later said ‘I made a mistake,’ and every other doctor including their own, a new doctor they hired, agreed: no burn.”
Rittgers claims police held Richardson’s hand and acted like her friend and told her it would be better to say she cremated the baby rather than threw it in a fire.
He says the selected jurors, and everyone else in the courtroom during the trial, will be able to watch the interrogations where he says Richardson denied ’17 times’ that she burned her baby.
The defense attorney claims Richardson only admitted to burning her baby after police had ‘broken her down.’
He says when the courtroom watches the interrogations, the jurors will see Richardson describe her baby being born dead ’29 times;' not breathing, no cord attached to the placenta, and white.
Rittgers says during Richardson’s initial visit to the OBGYN, it was determined she was 32 weeks pregnant based on two measurements. Her attorney says she was actually 37 to 39 weeks pregnant.
He said Richardson had ‘intrauterine growth restriction,’ and the doctor didn’t know she was further along because the height of the fetus was off by five to seven centimeters.
The doctor told Richardson she was going to have her baby in about 10 weeks, but she gave birth 11 days later, Rittgers said.
“Skylar thought she had 10 weeks to tell her mom, listen to her anguish, tell her boyfriend who didn’t know she was pregnant. She thinks she has 2 months: eight to 10 weeks. She thinks she can go to prom and graduate from high school before her mother gives her angst for being pregnant,” Rittgers said.
He says during the trial, jurors will hear from the second OBGYN Richardson saw; and OBGYN she knew would ask about her pregnancy.
Jurors will hear the doctor describe Richardson crying when she talked about her stillbirth, he says.
Rittgers says the case centers around a ‘massive rush to judgement’ and is an example of what happens when a doctor changes her mind and admits she’s wrong, but police nor prosecutors hit the reset button.
He says the state disregarded all truth that didn’t fit into their story.
Opening statements are expected to begin Wednesday when a jury is seated. Tuesday’s statements were an overview of what jurors can expect.