Teen mother’s murder trial headed to jury soon

LEBANON, Ohio (AP) — Jurors are expected to begin Thursday deliberating the fate of a teen mother accused of killing her newborn daughter and burying the baby in her Ohio family’s backyard.

The defense for Brooke Skylar Richardson, now 20, rested its case Wednesday and Warren County Judge Donald Oda II set closing arguments for Thursday morning. She wasn’t called to testify about her 2017 pregnancy .

If convicted of aggravated murder, Richardson could go to prison for the rest of her life.

The biggest issue jurors face is whether Richardson’s baby was alive at birth. She is also charged with involuntary manslaughter, child endangering and abuse of a corpse. Oda ruled that prosecutors failed to prove an evidence-tampering charge, so he dismissed it.

Richardson was an 18-year-old cheerleader when she secretly gave birth in May 2017. A doctor she later told called police. The remains of the baby Richardson called “Annabelle” were found in July 2017. Prosecutors said she hid an unwanted pregnancy before killing the baby; the defense said she was stillborn.

A Cincinnati gynecologist, Dr. John E. White, testified for the defense that Richardson was at risk for a stillbirth for several reasons, including her eating disorders and slight maternal weight gain. He cited other signs of stillbirth: the baby’s umbilical cord being detached from the placenta and the baby “plopping” out after a single push, as described by Richardson.

Assistant Prosecutor Julie Kraft confronted White with Richardson’s conflicting statements to police. During a police interview, she said the baby might have made noises and moved.

A prosecution witness declared the baby died from “homicidal violence.” The defense on Wednesday called Dr. Mark LeVaughn, the chief medical examiner for Mississippi. He said there was “no evidence of thermal injury, no identifiable evidence of live birth or injury,” so the child’s cause and manner of death were both “undetermined.”

But LeVaughn acknowledged that the baby’s remains consisted of bones and very little soft tissue, so there was no way to determine whether the child could have been drowned or suffocated.

Cincinnati psychologist Stuart Bassman said “Skylar was being manipulated” into making false statements during interrogations. He described Richardson as a vulnerable, immature person whose dependent personality disorder makes her want to please authority figures, even to the point of making incriminating statements that were untrue.

The disorder makes her so fearful of rejection and abandonment that she tends to act like she’s happy when she isn’t, he said, as in the old song that urges: “Smile, even though your heart is breaking.”

Kraft suggested that besides wanting to please authorities, Richardson’s desire to please her family and boyfriend and fear of them abandoning her could have motivated her to commit extreme acts.

Prosecutors objected to Bassman’s disclosure that Richardson said she had been sexually abused at age 12 by an older boy.