By JANICE HISLE / AP
September 13, 2019

(LEBANON, Ohio) — A young Ohio mother who prosecutors said killed and buried her unwanted newborn in her backyard just days after her senior prom was acquitted of murder Thursday. The remains were found about two months after she gave birth, buried in the backyard of her home where she lived with her parents in Carlisle, a village about 40 miles (64 kilometers) north of Cincinnati.

Brooke Skylar Richardson, now 20, began shaking and sobbing while a judge read the not guilty verdicts on aggravated murder, involuntary manslaughter and child endangerment charges. She had faced up to life in prison if she had been convicted on the most serious charge.

Prosecutors contended that the high school cheerleader wanted to keep her “perfect life” that included plans to begin classes at the University of Cincinnati. They said she hid her unwanted pregnancy and buried her baby in her family’s backyard in May 2017, just after her senior prom. Her defense said the baby she named “Annabelle” was stillborn and that the teen was sad and scared.

Richardson, though, was found guilty of corpse abuse by the jury after four hours of deliberation. On Friday, she was sentenced to three years’ probation on the charge.

Brooke Skylar Richardson, 20, apologized before a Warren County judge told her she showed a “grotesque disregard for life.”

“Life is precious, and it should be protected,” Judge Donald E. Oda II said. “I know in my heart that if you would have made different decisions in this case, Annabelle would be here today.” Oda warned Richardson, a first-time offender, that he can send her to prison for up to a year if she violates probation.

“I just wanted to say how sorry I was,” Richardson told the judge before he sentenced her. She said she can “sometimes be selfish,” and she knows she hurt “so many” people. “I’m forever sorry, I’m so sorry; I’m really, really sorry,” she said.

The case divided people in her hometown of Carlisle, with Facebook pages devoted to discussion, and some critics trying to record the Richardson family’s comings and goings for social media.

A forensic pathologist who testified for the prosecution concluded the baby died from “homicidal violence.” Prosecutors also said Richardson had searched on the internet for “how to get rid of a baby.” They played video for the jury of a police interview in which Richardson said the baby might have moved and made noises.

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.

Julie Kraft, an assistant prosecutor, 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.

Her attorneys had twice asked to move the trial that drew daily coverage from Court TV, citing intense publicity they said was fueled by the prosecution. But the judge denied their motions.

Contact us at editors@time.com.

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