It’s been nearly three years since 18-year-old Brooke Skylar Richardson gave birth alone, in her family home, and buried the baby in her backyard. She’s been through a grueling trial—charged with aggravated murder, involuntary manslaughter, and child endangerment—and endured a national media circus. But to this day, Richardson says her biggest regret is not telling someone when she discovered she was pregnant.
Richardson was acquitted of the most serious charges against her last month, in a trial that transfixed her small town of Carlisle, Ohio, and made headlines across the country. Critics dubbed the teenager a “baby killer” and started Facebook groups calling for her murder, while supporters claimed her case set a dangerous precedent for pregnant women..
In her first interview since the trial, Richardson told Cosmopolitan she spent much of that time agitating over what happened to her baby, whom she named Annabelle. Every night, she told Cosmo, “I would lie down and wish that I could have died in place of Annabelle.”
“I wish I would have done it differently,” she added. “I’m plagued by guilt every day for not telling someone.”
Richardson discovered she was pregnant in April 2017, at a gynecologist appointment her mother had arranged to get her birth control. Instead of prescribing the pill, however, the doctor informed her she was 32 weeks along. Then 18 years old, and focused on finishing her senior year of high school, Richardson told no one.
Weeks later—on her senior prom night, weeks before the baby was due—Richardson gave birth in her family bathroom. To this day, she maintains it was a stillbirth. (“I did not hurt, harm, or kill Annabelle,” she told Cosmo.) Panicked, she ran outside and dug a shallow grave in her backyard. She covered it with pink flower petals.
Months after, when Richardson finally told a doctor the outcome of the pregnancy, the doctor reported her to authorities for suspected child abuse. Police assigned to the case questioned her for hours, until she admitted to trying to cremate the remains. Later, her defense team would say this confession was coerced, and the prosecution’s own expert witness would also say there was no evidence of burning.
But as news of her story spread, people in Richardson’s town and beyond started calling her a monster. Friends and classmates lined up in front of her house to take pictures, and commenters on social media called for her death.
“It was the worst nightmare,” her mother, Kim Richardson, previously told 48 Hours. “Purgatory every day. Our lives have been completely turned upside-down.”
Brooke told Cosmo that she felt “like I was dying” during the trial. “Very few things have been harder than having to listen to prosecutors allege horrible, unthinkable things of me and put countless photos of my daughter’s bones on a big screen,” she said.
Even now, after a jury found her not guilty on three different charges, the scrutiny on Richardson remains. Hours after her acquittal, when she went to a gathering with friends, someone sent pictures to the media. In October, relatives of her baby’s father organized a candlelight vigil for Annabelle at a local community center.
Now 20 years old, Richardson has been unable to join her friends at college or even find a job beyond a part-time role with the law firm that represented her. Her eating disorder—which became a fixture of the dramatic coverage around her case—has persisted, and she has also been diagnosed with mild PTSD and severe depression.
“I’m still living with a lot of fear,” Richardson told Cosmo. “The past two years have been nothing short of a nightmare. After being constantly afraid and paranoid of everyone and everything around me, I’m having a hard time letting that go.”
Richardson will still have to serve three years on probation for the one charge on which the jury found her guilty—gross abuse of a corpse. Still, she has signed up for paralegal classes at a community college, and says she plans to seek treatment for her eating disorders. She hopes to eventually work for the Ohio Innocence Project.