Once upon a time, 18-year-old Brooke (Skylar) Richardson worked at a cheer camp for disabled children. Now the “exemplary” teen is awaiting trial for allegedly murdering her newborn daughter in cold blood then burning and burying the body. As PEOPLE reports, police descended on Brooke Richardson’s home on July 19, following a tip from her doctor’s office. Brooke had allegedly told her doctor that she’d suffered a tragic stillbirth.
While very few details of the Brooke Richardson’s baby girl’s birth have been made publicly available, authorities have made some damning allegations against the teen – a young woman who loved ones refer to as “a good student” and “a very good girl.” According to police, Brooke Richardson “recklessly caused the death of another” when she allegedly killed the baby girl they believe was born around May 7.
Initially, investigators believed that the charred and badly decomposed remains they found at the home belonging to Brooke Richardson and her parents was that of a stillborn female. However, after returning to the home on July 20, they uncovered more evidence in a fire pit on the property, arrested Richardson, and declared the baby had been born alive. Prosecutors initially charged Brooke with reckless homicide (maximum sentence of five years in prison), and she and her family fully cooperated with two days of interrogations without an attorney.
Since her original arrest, Brooke Richardson has been indicted on five counts: aggravated murder, involuntary manslaughter, tampering with evidence, child endangerment and gross abuse of a corpse. As Rewire reports, these new charges were allegedly prompted by an autopsy that indicated that the burned, skeletal remains of the teen’s infant belonged to a child who had been born alive.
To date, prosecutors have not revealed what evidence they used to determine that Richardson’s baby was born alive.
On August 7, Brooke Richardson pleaded not guilty to all five charges against her. Prosecutors requested a massive $1 million bond, citing the “severity of the crime.” Judge Donald Oda II, who is trying the case, was not convinced and set teen’s bond at just $50,000. According to the judge, he had been presented with “little evidence” supporting the serious allegations against Richardson.
A trial date has now been set in Brooke Richardson’s case. The 18-year-old former cheerleader who claims to be guilty of nothing more than suffering a stillbirth will be tried beginning November 6. In the interim, Richardson and her family have posted bond, and the teen remains on house arrest pending trial.
Between the time of the first arrest and the formal accusation, Fornshell and investigators were tight-lipped and refused to make any statements apart from holding a press conference on August 4, at which Fornshell accused Richardson of giving birth before burning the body and burying it in the backyard. Based on bone measurements, it is estimated that the fetus was 38 to 40 weeks gestation at the time of its death.
Prosecutors have remained mum regarding the evidence that they have to prove that Richardson’s baby was born alive. Indeed, at an August 4 press conference, Warren County Prosecutor David Fornshell admitted that the state is likely unable to be able to prove a cause of death in the case.
“I am not sure we ever will provide to you the exact medical cause of death and the reason for that is because the child was, after death, burned and subsequently buried and there was significant decomposition to the body.”
Despite the apparent lack of evidence, Fornshell is relentlessly pursuing murder charges in the case. He is also seeking life in prison for Brooke Richardson, despite the fact that she herself reported her stillbirth to her doctor at Hilltop OB-GYN clinic. A gag order has been issued for all parties involved in the case.
Before that gag ordered was issued, Brooke Richardson’s attorney publicly claimed to have seen no evidence from the prosecution to substantiate their claims of murder, or even that the infant/fetus was born alive. According to Charlie M. Rittgers, he will be seeking independent experts to conduct forensic examinations of Richardson’s fetus’ remains. Rittgers added that his client is a model student and citizen.
“She is a good person. A good student who has been a high honors student all her life. She has never been in any trouble of any kind. She was every teacher’s pet. She didn’t drink. She wasn’t a partier or a smoker. By all measures, she is a good girl who helped children …. She is a good person. This is a tragic situation and Skylar is taking it in the way you would expect: It has shocked her.”
As Rewire reports, the seemingly unsubstantiated charges against Brook Richardson are quite similar to those that were levied against Purvi Patel years ago. Patel was formerly convicted of feticide and felony neglect of a minor for performing a self-induced abortion. The Indiana woman was ultimately released from prison early after the Indiana Court of Appeals vacated her feticide conviction, clarifying that the law had never been intended to prosecute pregnant women for terminating their own pregnancies.
Patel had been handed down an 18-month prison sentence for felony child neglect, but a federal judge determined that she’d served more than that amount of time before ordering her immediate release in July 2016.
The charges against Brooke Richardson also call to mind the recent charges levied against and sentence meted out to El Salvadorian high school student Evelyn Beatriz Hernandez Cruz. As New York Live reports, the now-19-year-old was sentenced to 30 years in prison after her 2016 pregnancy ended in a stillbirth. The fetus in question was the result of being repeatedly raped by a gang member. Hernandez Cruz reportedly didn’t realize she was pregnant and gave birth while on the toilet in April 2016.
Neither prosecutors nor medical experts were able to prove whether the El Salvadorian fetus was born alive, but that didn’t stop a judge from convicting Hernandez Cruz of murder for failing to seek antenatal care – prosecutors alleged that the teen rape victim had deliberately thrown the newborn in a toilet with the intention of ending its lives.
“The judgment sentencing Evelyn to 30 years in prison shows how in El Salvador justice is applied without direct proof, without sufficient evidence that clarifies what a woman has done.”
Abortion is illegal for any reason in El Salvador and has been for two decades. However, a lawyer for the Hernandez Cruz called the ruling “unjust and unlawful,” adding that the sentence will be appealed.
In the United States, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court ruling in the Roe v. Wade case guarantees each and every American woman the right to choose abortion, regardless of the reason, and until fetal viability. The State of Indiana, where Brooke Richardson resides, requires women seeking an abortion to be subjected to “informed consent” at least 24 hours before seeking an abortion.
That informed consent must include a face-to-face meeting with a physician, information regarding the nature and risks of the abortion procedure, risks of continuing gestation, alternatives to abortion, and that the likely gestational age of the fetus in question be determined.
Regardless of Ohio’s abortion laws, however, Brooke Richardson and her defense team insist that her pregnancy ended in a stillbirth. As the CDCreports, Ohio law simply requires that stillbirths be reported if they occur later than 20 weeks gestation. According to Brooke Richardson and even her doctor, Richardson did indeed report her stillbirth to her OB.
[Featured Image by Warren County Jail/AP Images]