Skylar Richardson found guilty of abuse of a corpse

Updated: Sep. 12, 2019 at 10:41 PM EDT
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WARREN COUNTY, Ohio (FOX19) - Skylar Richardson cried in court as the verdict was read in her murder trial on Thursday.

The jury found Richardson not guilty of aggravated murder, not guilty of involuntary manslaughter, not guilty of child endangerment, but guilty of abuse of a corpse.

The former Carlisle High School cheerleader, now 20, was accused of killing her newborn in May 2017 and burying the remains in her family’s backyard.

It took the jury, that was made up of seven women and five men, about four hours to deliberate.

The maximum penalty for abuse of a corpse is 12 months.

“She’s already gone through two years of misery,” her defense team said.

Attorney Charlie Rittgers said he expected this outcome and an early verdict indicated it was in their favor.

“I truly believed in the case. Skylar is innocent,” he said. “In my heart of hearts, I believe Skylar had a stillborn baby.”

Warren County Prosecutor David Fornshell said he felt Richardson got a fair trial.

"I think the advocacy on both sides was excellent.”

Fornshell believes no medical cause of death contributed to the verdict.

“While we haven’t had the opportunity to speak to the jury my thought is in all likelihood they’re members on that jury who believe Brooke Richardson killed her child. But there were other people who believed we didn’t have evidence beyond a reasonable doubt,” he said.

Richardson will be sentenced Friday at 11 a.m.

Assistant Prosecutor Julie Kraft began closing arguments saying Richardson wanted to keep her “perfect life” and the baby was unwanted.

“Unwanted - that’s what Brooke Richardson’s daughter was... unwanted,” she said. “She chose her own perfect life over that of her daughter’s."

Kraft said Richardson never wanted her daughter. She never got help, kept the pregnancy a secret and didn’t get prenatal care.

“It is clear from her actions the decision to never have this baby was made before the baby was born. She was never going to see the light of day,” she said. “Her daughter is born into this world... still nothing. Rather she buries her in the backyard and disposes of her remains and all evidence."

Rittgers said Richardson’s stillbirth was affected by intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR).

He focused on the prosecution’s claim that Richardson tried to cremate her daughter, despite first telling police she didn’t.

“Burn her? I promise on anything I didn’t burn her,” she said. “I did nothing with fire... nothing.”

The defense says the two detectives who interrogated Richardson got her to believe something that wasn’t true.

“I tried to cremate the baby just a little,” she told her dad.

Rittgers says the science does not support it.

“It’s silly. It is impossible to light a baby or any human being on fire with a lighter," he said.

He included many graphs and charts to show several points of reasonable doubt.

Rittgers said in order to hand down a guilty verdict, the jury would have to have no doubt Richardson had a live birth.

“Trust yourselves... trust your memories. Trust each other. Trust what you heard,” he said.

Richardson told her OBGYN that she did not want the child, but Rittgers says that doesn’t mean she killed her baby.

“Women who kill their children throw them in dumpsters. They try to distance themselves from the body. Throw them away in trash cans like towels. Skylar named her child, she put her in a gravesite that she can see from her bedroom window and kept her close. Put flowers on her grave and marked the grave," he said.

Rittgers explained to jurors why Richardson didn’t take the stand.

“One manipulative interrogation of Skylar is enough," he said.

Assistant Prosecutor Steve Knippen says Richardson’s actions just hours after giving birth reveal her true intentions. He showed the jury several text messages she sent to her mom.

“I’m literally speechless with how happy I am. My belly is back omg. I’m never, ever, ever letting it get like this again. You’re about to see me looking freaking better than before omg," the text read.

“That was just hours after her daughter died,” Knippen said.

Richardson also sent her mom a picture posing in front of a mirror showing her midsection at the gym the next morning after she gave birth.

The prosecution rested after four days of testimony, the defense, after two.

On Wednesday, the jury saw emotional testimony when Richardson’s brother, Jackson, was asked to say a few words on her behalf.

FULL COVERAGE | Skylar Richardson Trial

The prosecution also tried to poke holes in the defense claim that Richardson was coerced into making statements she didn’t believe when detectives questioned her.

The defense called a psychologist who says he spent ten hours with Richardson and reviewed her interviews at the Carlisle Police Department.

“At any sort of confrontation, she disintegrates," Dr. Stuart Bassman said.

Bassman says Richardson suffers from a dependent personality disorder where she has a difficult time speaking up for herself.

“She lives in a state of denial where if you would see her on the outside you would see a smiling girl but on the inside, she’s emotionally crumbling," he said.

MORE | Defense rests in Skylar Richardson trial, closing arguments expected Thursday | Richardson’s dad testifies biggest regret in life is ‘not having an attorney for the 2nd interrogation’

Bassman said Detective Carter holding Richardson’s hand during the second interrogation was a violation of boundary.

“By taking her hand and by continually using leading questions, leading statements... they attempted Skylar to say things that she knew were false," he said. "By the officer holding her hand... because to me that’s a violation of a boundary. That’s a violation."

However, the prosecution said it was Richardson who initiated the contact.

Kraft went through a checklist for characteristics of young females who engage in “neonaticide," which is the deliberate act of a parent murdering their own child during the first 24 hours of life.

When she asked Dr. Bassman if Richardson fit the criteria he said “no.”

“I am not an expert in neonaticide. It’s easy to get a checklist and check it off... but it’s really not fair,” he said.

Richardson’s brother, Jackson, said it was his 18th birthday when he took the stand.

“She’s my sister and I can say she’s my best friend," he said.

Jackson was then asked if his sister’s case has taken a toll on their family.

“People saying things about my sister. I just wish we could have a normal life now, but, it’s going on two years now. It just seems like it’s never going to end," he said.

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