The Ohio cheerleader accused of killing her newborn baby and burying her in the backyard in an unmarked grave has been acquitted of the most serious charges against her.
Brooke Skylar Richardson, now 20, was found not guilty of three charges, including aggravated murder and involuntary manslaughter. The jury did find her guilty of gross abuse of a corpse, for which she will be sentenced on Friday. The charge carries a maximum sentence of one year in prison.
The verdict came after an eight-day trial during which jurors had to decide whether Richardson was a scared teenager who experienced a stillbirth or a cold-blooded murderer. Richardson, who sobbed when the verdict was read, was accused of killing her newborn child in 2017, when she was 18, and burying the baby in her Carlisle, Ohio, backyard.
Prosecutors alleged the cheerleader purposefully killed the female infant, who was born alive, “because she did not want to be pregnant.”
“Unwanted,” Assistant Warren County Prosecutor Julie Kraft said during closing arguments on Thursday. “That’s what Brooke Richardson’s daughter was.”
Richardson’s attorneys argued in court that the baby, whom the cheerleader named Annabelle, was born stillborn at 33 weeks. Out of fear, her lawyers said, Richardson buried the baby in the backyard. They also argued her confession to police about burning her baby was coerced.
Last week, prosecutors played a recording of the 2017 police interview with Richardson.
“Honey, tell us what happened,” her father said at the end of the interview, according to the transcript.
“I tried to cremate the baby,” Richardson allegedly said.
In another police interview played in court last week, Richardson could be heard telling police she didn’t return her doctor’s calls because she was scared. “I didn’t really want to have my baby,” she told police. “I really don’t know what I planned to do.”
A psychologist testified that Richardson was sexually abused when she was 12, arguing that the trauma from that led to a “personality disorder” that made her feel like she must comply with authority figures.
“Skylar, because of her personality disorder, has very a difficult time confronting those in authority. She has a very difficult time speaking up for herself,” psychologist Dr. Stuart Bassman testified on Wednesday. “What’s most sad about this is Skylar, because of her personality disorder, is not able to protect herself. She was not able to defend herself.”
Bassman insisted that the video of the “defenseless” Richardson telling police interviewers she heard the baby making sounds after she gave birth and still burned her with a lighter proved her disorder.
The psychologist later called Richardson’s second interrogation with investigators from the Warren County Sheriff’s Office “a clear case of intimidation.”
On Wednesday, Richardson’s brother also revealed the 20-year-old suffered from an disorder, recalling that he would often catch his sister hiding her food and hearing her throw up.
“I just wanted her to be happy,” Jackson Richardson said.
The defense also argued that the baby’s development was affected by her weight and health problems.
Assistant Prosecutor Steve Knippen, however, asserted in court that Richardson never wanted to have a child and worried that her lifestyle would be ruined by her pregnancy.
In court, prosecutors presented text messages Richardson allegedly sent her mom, who did not realize that her daughter was pregnant until she was questioned by police.
“I’m literally so excited for dinner to wear something cute yayy my belly is back now I am takin this opportunity to make it amazing,” she allegedly texted, just 24 hours after her baby died.
Richardson then allegedly texted her mother again the day after she buried the child.
“I’m literally speechless with how happy I am,” Richardson allegedly texted. “My belly is back omg I am never ever ever evertrrr letting it grt like this again your about to see me look freaking better than before omg.”
“That belly was her child,” Knippen said on Thursday, referencing Richardson’s texts. “That belly was her daughter with fingers and toes and hair on her head. A child she tossed in the dirt.”
Authorities discovered the remains of the infant in the summer of 2017 after receiving a tip from the teenager’s doctors.
Prosecutors allege Richardson had an “extreme” reaction after being told she was pregnant and did not return for follow-up prenatal visits. Another doctor also called police after Richardson allegedly told her she had “gone into labor, delivered a stillborn baby, and buried the baby in her backyard,” according to court papers.