In July 2017, police in Carlisle, Ohio, discovered an unmarked baby grave in the backyard of a prominent family. On Tuesday, jury selection began in the case of the alleged high school cheerleader accused of killing her newborn baby to protect the image of her good girl.
Brooke Skylar Richardson, now 20, has been charged with aggravated murder, involuntary manslaughter and three other crimes. She faces up to life in prison if convicted. Richardson's attorneys say she survived a stillbirth and buried a fetus delivered at 33 weeks in the backyard. The state claims that she intentionally killed a baby born alive because she did not want to be pregnant.
The case aroused interest and alarm across the world, in part because of misleading reports that Richardson burned the remains of the fetus before burying them. He has also raised concerns from national advocacy groups that say Richardson's charge of murder sets a dangerous precedent for pregnant people. The process is expected to last two to three weeks and has already attracted national media to the city of Carlisle with 5,000 people.
Authorities have discovered the remains of a baby that Richardson's family says baptized Annabelle after being met by teenage doctors in the summer of 201
Prosecutors initially allege that Richardson burned the baby before burying it, but the court-appointed anthropologist assigned to the case later appears to have denied the claim. In opening statements Tuesday, prosecutors said the evidence would still show that Richardson gave birth, buried the baby, discarded the evidence and kept it secret from everyone – including her parents.
In the arraignment two years ago, prosecutors focused on presenting the Richardson family as "obsessed with outward appearances" and their daughter as willing to do anything to support them. She is expected to use evidence of her eating disorder, her time on the cheerleading squad and the tracking team, and her involvement with the National Honest Society – evidence that Richardson's defense used to paint her as a policy-observant – as evidence that she was busy maintaining its image.
Meanwhile, her advocates say Richardson is the victim of "mass haste". They claim her answer taught her she was pregnant, normal and expected to be a teenager, and said on Tuesday that she did not tell his r family about the pregnancy before what they said was a miscarriage because she did not expect to give birth so soon.
Attorney Charles Ritger blasted prosecutors for refusing to withdraw the allegation that Richardson burned the baby, even after a forensic medical anthropologist walked back on her statements and that he relied heavily on statements, he said Richardson had been exhausted police interrogation.
"They ignore all the truth that does not fit into their story," he told the courtroom on Tuesday.
The trial of Richardson was postponed for years in part because the defense moved several times to omit evidence, and twice to dismiss the charges. Her attorneys say she was unable to find a job during this period of time and works part-time at their law firm while attending community college.
Advocacy groups argue that prosecutors set a dangerous precedent for criminalizing pregnant people and could lead to more false accusations against those who have stillbirths. Others appealed the court's decision to allow Richardson's doctors to testify because they believed it was a breach of patient confidentiality.
Reproductive rights groups such as the National Pregnant Women Advocates (NAPW) and the Center for Reproductive Rights provided legal information on Richardson's behalf last year. Amber Khan, a senior lawyer for NAPW staff, told The Daily Beast that the requirement for doctors to testify against their patients "distorts the role of the doctor."
"Instead of acting as healthcare providers. , which functioned as law enforcement reporters, "Khan said." They call the police, they call the social services – they are essentially witnesses against their own patients. "
She added:" It undermines the health system and will certainly deter people want to get at all health care. "