After more than two years awaiting trial for allegedly killing her newborn and burying her in the backyard, Brooke Skylar Richardson learned Friday she would spend no additional time in jail.
The 20-year-old was led into the Warren County Common Pleas courtroom for sentencing on a single charge of abuse of a corpse. Richardson, who had been free on $50,000 bond since being indicted for aggravated murder and other felonies in July 2017, spent the night in the county jail waiting sentencing on the fifth-degree felony.
Richardson was acquitted by a jury of charges of aggravated murder, involuntary manslaughter and child endangering on Thursday after the eight-day trial, and the Warren County Prosecutor David Fornshell said that was most likely because the prosecution couldn’t produce a cause of death of the baby.
Judge Donald Oda II sentenced Richardson to three years of community control and seven days in jail. She got credit for time served and was released after court.
MORE ON THE SENTENCING
By law, the maximum sentence was 12 months in jail, but community control is mandated, meaning Richardson could have spent up to six months in the county jail.
If Richardson violates conditions of her community control, she could go to prison for 12 months, according to the judge.
Oda told Richardson before handing down the sentence that he always thought of this case as the story of two little girls: Richardson and the baby she named Annabelle. The judge said Richardson’s actions during and after her pregnancy showed a “grotesque disregard for life.”
Oda said while he knows Richardson has been living with a nightmare, life is precious.
“I know in may heart if you had made different decisions in this case, Annabelle would be here today,” Oda said.
MORE ON THE VERDICTS
Before the sentencing, victim representatives on both sides of the baby’s family made statements followed by an apology by Richardson.
Tracy Johnson, the baby’s paternal grandmother and mother of the baby’s father, Trey Johnson, said the family has suffered pain in the more than two years since the incident.
“Her selfish decision was not her only choice,” Tracy Johnson said. “She had a way out.”
Johnson said she would have raised the baby and no one would ever have needed to know, including Richardson’s mother or boyfriend at the time.
“I love kids, always have,” Tracy Johnson said. “I would have taken her in with Trey and raised her with no questions asked.”
Trey Johnson, who testified at the trial, was not in the courtroom for sentencing.
Scott Richardson, Brooke Richardson’s father, stood beside his daughter and told the judge she has an eating disorder and the family is concerned for health.
“Anything you can do to get her home would be appreciated,” Scott Richardson said.
Defense attorney Charles H. Rittgers said Richardson’s weight is down to 89 pounds and she is losing her hair. He said he hoped that the court would take into consideration that Richardson has been living a nightmare for more than two years.
Then Oda told Richardson she could have the final word.
“I just wanted to say how sorry I was, I can be selfish,” Richardson said. “I am really, really sorry.”
She turned to face the Johnson family while speaking.
“I’m forever sorry,” she said.
As one final ruling in a case that has seen a flurry of legal motions, twists and turns, including an appeal to the 12th District Court of Appeals and two failed requests for the Ohio Supreme Court to consider a medical records issue, Oda addressed what would happen to the remains of Richardson’s baby.
Defense attorney Charles M. Rittgers said the Richardson family has a burial plot and would like to give the baby a final resting place. Prosecutors also told the judge both families are interested in retaining the remains of the baby.
Scott Richardson stood as he promised the judge the remains would be buried properly and the Johnson family would have access to pay their respects. Oda released the remains to the Richardson family.
“I’m holding Mr. Richardson to his promise that remains will be buried in a place accessible to Johnson family,” Oda said.
One of the 12 jurors said the not guilty verdict was reached because the prosecution failed to prove its case.
Nancy Grawe of Loveland said she feels “very good about our decision.”
Key during the trial was an early forensic report that said the baby’s remains were charred. The expert who made that determination later recanted the belief, but prosecutors presented an interrogation video of Richardson telling investigators she might have tried to cremate her baby.
The defense claimed the investigators were overzealous in their questioning of Richardson during that interrogation because they believed at the time the baby had been burned.
“There was no proof at all, and the prosecutors did not prove their case,” she said. “I had a difficult time as the prosecutors insisted on the (baby) burning theory. They had no proof. It was based on a false premise, and they knew it.”
Grawe said the expert corrected herself about the baby being burned, yet the prosecutors still proceeded with the case.
“I think that really hurt the prosecution, in my opinion,” she said.
Grawe said the jury worked well together.
“We did not feel the prosecution proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt,” she said. “ We were all in agreement about that.”
Staff writer Ed Richter contributed to this report
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