The case against Brooke Skylar Richardson

Produced by Lisa Freed, Stephanie Slifer, Lincoln Farr and Jonathan Leach

[This story first aired on September 28, 2019; it was updated on May 23, 2020.] 

An Ohio cheerleader charged with murder and vilified in social media, was found not guilty of killing her newborn in September. Brooke Skylar Richardson kept her pregnancy — and the birth of a daughter less than 48 hours after her senior prom — a secret.

The then-18-year-old later told police the baby was stillborn and that she buried the infant in the backyard.

In their first televised interviews, Skylar’s parents Scott and Kim Richardson speak out about the impact of the case on their family and on their daughter with “48 Hours” correspondent Erin Moriarty.

“The worst nightmare. Purgatory every day,” Kim Richardson said. “We’re followed, stalked, harassed ….Facebook, to me, turned into Hatebook.”

Moriarty explores Skylar’s life, the potential impact an eating disorder had on her decisions, why she hid the pregnancy, and an unexpected offer the prosecutors made to Skylar before trial that could have changed everything.

Nothing has polarized Ohio’s Warren County more than the trial of Brooke Skylar Richardson.  

Erin Moriarty: Do you feel that Skylar has ever gotten that presumption of innocence?

Scott Richardson: Absolutely not.

Now 20 years old, Brooke, known as Skylar, is accused of killing her newborn daughter.  If convicted, she could spend the rest of her life in prison.

Kim Richardson: It’s just changed our lives forever.

For more than a year, Skylar’s parents, Kim and Scott Richardson, gave “48 Hours” unique access to their story. But on the advice of their lawyers, Skylar couldn’t talk to us.

Kim Richardson: … it’s so hard to be living like this, thinking but what if?

Erin Moriarty: A lot of what ifs.

Kim Richardson: A lot of what ifs.

In 2017, the Richardsons were living the good life in Carlisle, Ohio, population 5,000.

Scott Richardson:  It’s Mayberry. Small-town U.S.A.

Kim Richardson: it’s so small-town, most people don’t leave.

Their kids excelled in school and sports. Son Jackson plays on the football team; Skylar was a cheerleader. But behind the smiling photographs, the family was struggling with a serious issue — Skylar’s eating disorder.

Erin Moriarty: How much do you think her weight and eating ruled her life?

Kim Richardson: Oh, 95% … that is her life.

Kim Richardson says she first noticed a problem when her cheerleader daughter was in the sixth grade.

Kim Richardson: Twelve years old, she wouldn’t buy gum, because it had five calories.  I didn’t even know gum had calories.

Kim Richardson says when cheerleading season was over, Skylar would binge … then starve again. 

Kim Richardson

She was so tiny. She was a perfect flyer.

Kim Richardson: You do a stunt in the air or you — hold a very difficult stretching pose for — you know, a few seconds … and then come back down to the ground.

But it also meant she had to be easy to lift and catch. Kim says it was the beginning of Skylar’s battle with her weight. 

Erin Moriarty: How would she lose the weight?

Kim Richardson: She would throw up.

And when cheerleading was over for the season, Skylar would binge … then starve again.

Erin Moriarty: Did you get afraid to even talk about her weight?

Kim Richardson: Absolutely.

Scott Richardson: She definitely would shut down if you mentioned it to her.

The Richardsons say they tried everything – doctors, therapists and nutritionists. Skylar was diagnosed with body dysmorphia, a mental disorder involving an obsessive focus on a perceived flaw in appearance. Nothing helped.

Kim Richardson: She’s very guarded.

Erin Moriarty: Keep a lot of secrets? 

Kim Richardson: Yes. So many, and we don’t know what they are. And I don’t know that we ever will.

In late July 2016, the summer before her senior year, Skylar began dating a friend’s cousin. The relationship ended quickly and by January 2017, Skylar had a new boyfriend – a high school junior named Brandon.

Erin Moriarty: Why did those two click? What is it?

Kim Richardson: I don’t know, ’cause she’s this tall, and he’s that tall [laughing at their difference in height].

Skylar was happy. She even seemed to be putting on some weight. Kim and Scott hoped their daughter’s eating disorder was finally under control.

Scott Richardson: We were actually pleased that she was finally gainin’ some weight.

Kim Richardson: She looked healthy.

A month later she eagerly picked out her prom dress.

Kim Richardson: And it was a tight-fitting dress that she needed to be laced up in.

And then in late March, Skylar went on vacation with her family.

Kim Richardson:  She wore a two-piece. … I told her she looked great. … I mean, for the first time in my life, I thought she’s healthy, she’s in a healthy relationship, she really cares about Brandon. I could tell that she did.

Kim knew Skylar’s relationship with Brandon was heating up.

Kim Richardson: That’s why I wanted her to be on the pill.

So, in late April, Skylar went to her mother’s gynecologist to get a prescription for birth control.  She had just turned 18, so Kim waited outside.

Kim Richardson: — she came out. She had clearly been crying.

Erin Moriarty: Did you ask her why she was crying?

Kim Richardson: Just it was traumatic. … your first appointment is.

The real reason for the tears?  The doctor had told Skylar she was eight months pregnant.  She asked him not to tell anyone.

Erin Moriarty: She never said anything to either one of you about what the doctor told her?

Kim Richardson: No.

Nine days later, on May 5, Skylar and Brandon went to the prom. Despite being late into her pregnancy, she fit into her gown.

At left, Skylar Richardson is pictured in her prom dress in February 2017 and, at right, in May 2017.

Kim Richardson

Erin Moriarty: So, she’s wearing the same dress that she had tried on in February?

Kim Richardson: Purchased February 15th. I have, side by side, put the pictures together … they’re almost identical. They’re identical.

But less than 48 hours later, in the early morning hours of May 7, something happened that turned the Richardsons life upside down.

It remained Skylar’s secret for more than two months – when police suddenly showed up at the house.

Scott Richardson: They said, “Hey, we just need to talk to your daughter about somethin’ she may have witnessed.” You know, she’s not in any trouble. We just need to talk to her.

Taking them at their word, Scott drove his daughter to the police station.

Scott Richardson: I mean, honestly, I can look back. That’s the biggest mistake I’ve made in my entire life.


On July 14, 2017, when Scott Richardson drove his daughter Skylar to the Carlisle Police station, he had no idea that she had been keeping a secret.

Erin Moriarty: As she’s going in to talk to the police, do you know what it’s about —

Scott Richardson: No, have no idea.

Lt. John Faine, who at the time was with the Warren County Sheriff’s Office, wanted to question 18-year-old Skylar about a call they’d received.

Lt. John Faine: There’s an allegation from an OB-GYN office that a patient there had delivered a baby at home, subsequently buried her in her backyard.

Skylar was put in an interrogation room; her father wasn’t allowed in with her. As Lt. Faine read Skylar her rights, and then began pressing her, a camera was recording everything:

LT. JOHN FAINE [to Skylar]: We got a call from the doctor’s office, OK? … And according to them on April 26th … you found out you were pregnant.

Remember, that was the same day Skylar went to see the gynecologist about getting birth control pills. More than two months later, she returned:

LT. JOHN FAINE: You went back to that doctor’s office?

SKYLAR RICHARDSON: Mm-hmm. … and I told her what had happened. … That I had to have the baby and it wasn’t alive. … I didn’t kill her though.

Skylar told investigators that in the early morning hours of May 7, 2017, she gave birth to a stillborn baby in her bathroom:

SKYLAR RICHARDSON: She just kind of came out and I tried, I tried. … I’m trying to hold her and see if she’s breathing, but she doesn’t have a heartbeat.

LT. JOHN FAINE: So now what do you do when you realize … that she’s not going to make it?

SKYLAR RICHARDSON: I have to bury her. … I couldn’t tell anybody.

Without waking anyone, Skylar said she silently walked downstairs, got a small garden trowel and then dug a shallow grave in her backyard: 

SKYLAR RICHARDSON: I did not try and kill my baby.

After about 45 minutes of questioning, Lt. Faine told Skylar’s anxious parents the real reason he brought in their daughter.

Scott Richardson: Shock.

Kim Richardson: I couldn’t feel my body. I could not get up. … How could that happen? I’ve seen her every day. I look at her. I talk to her. I hug her.

Faine then gave the Richardsons some time alone with their daughter, never mentioning the camera was rolling and capturing a deeply personal moment:

SKYLAR RICHARDSON [to her parents]: I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, Mommy. I’m sorry.

SCOTT RICHARDSON: You should have just told us.

Inside the interrogation room, cameras captured the moment Skylar told her parents what had happened.

Warren County Common Pleas Court

Skylar told her parents that she named her baby Annabelle and the baby’s father was that friend’s cousin she dated very briefly before Brandon.

Kim Richardson: I can’t imagine the pain. … It breaks my heart to think about her laying in bed being scared, not being able to come down and tell me what had just happened.

With the Richardsons still at the police station, coming to terms with their new reality, investigators descended on their home in search of human remains. Soon, Skylar’s once closely-held secret was shared with everyone in town.

After more than five hours, Skylar and her parents were allowed to go home. But six days later, Lt. Faine called, asking Skylar to come in again.

Scott Richardson: I was told … “She’s not in any trouble. This is not a life-changing situation.”

This time, Lt. Faine was accompanied by Detective Brandi Carter and they had new, damaging information from the coroner’s office:

LT. JOHN FAINE [to Skylar]: We know there’s some more that happened than what you shared the other day, OK?

Dr. Elizabeth Murray, a forensic anthropologist who analyzed the remains, reported there was evidence the baby’s bones may have been burned.

Lt. John Faine: So, she was under the belief that the baby had been set on fire.

Erin Moriarty: What was your reaction when you heard that?

Lt. John Faine: I was surprised.

Faine began to think Skylar must be lying about everything and was determined to get her to admit to killing the baby and then burning the remains in order to hide the evidence.

DET. BRANDI CARTER: There’s some evidence to show that there was some burning on her.

SKYLAR RICHARDSON: Burned her? I promise on anything I didn’t burn her. I swear on anything.

But Skylar is clearly confused. She denied setting a fire a total of 17 times.

Erin Moriarty: In your head, you’re thinking, “This young woman is lying to me.”

Lt. John Faine: Yes. … Because they had … told us certainly … with … scientific certainty, there was the fire.

DET. BRANDI CARTER: Maybe it was just one of those things where you just thought … like with cremation, like, I’m going to have some ashes that I can keep of my daughter.

After a second interrogation,detectives had enough to arrest the 18-year-old on a charge of reckless homicide. Their theory was that she had suffocated the baby.

Warren County Common Pleas Court

Suddenly, Skylar changed her story:

DET. BRANDI CARTER: Tell me everything that you were thinking and everything you did.

SKYLAR RICHARDSON: I had a lighter and just –

It didn’t stop there:

LT. JOHN FAINE: Did you hear anything like little gurgle sounds –

Skylar also made the startling admission that the baby might have been born alive:

LT. JOHN FAINE: How did you know at first, you know, that she was probably alive just a little bit? 

SKYLAR RICHARDSON: Well, I think she might have made a noise. … Maybe a little noise, a gurgle.

Erin Moriarty: When she said that she might’ve heard a gurgle, the gurgle came from you guys first. Right?

Lt. John Faine: That word, yes. I said that word first —

At the end of that hour-long interrogation, detectives had enough to arrest the 18-year-old on a charge of reckless homicide. Their theory was that she had suffocated the baby. In the interrogation room, a distraught Skylar told her parents what she told police:

SKYLAR RICHARDSON: I tried to cremate the baby just a little.

SCOTT RICHARDSON: You tried to cremate the baby?

SKYLAR RICHARDSON: Yeah. A little, I did it a little.

Skylar made bail. Just two weeks later, the case was presented to a grand jury who indicted her on a new, devastating set of charges. Skylar was arrested again.

Warren County prosecutor David Fornshell addressed reporters:

PROSECUTOR DAVID FORNSHELL: Count one of that indictment is for aggravated murder.

Aggravated murder — a charge that carries a mandatory life sentence in Ohio. The other charges: involuntary manslaughter, endangering children, and abuse of a corpse. Fornshell left no doubt he had the evidence:

PROSECUTOR DAVID FORNSHELL to reporters]: The general allegations against her are that … she did give birth to a newborn infant … she caused the death of that infant. … burned the infant and buried the infant.

The motive, says Fornshell, a baby wouldn’t fit into Skylar’s life:

PROSECUTOR DAVID FORNSHELL: Skylar and her family … were pretty obsessed with external appearances.

REPORTER: You’re describing a spoiled, self-entitled teenager who was more worried about vanity than keeping the life of a baby alive.


Scott Richardson: There’s no way she would ever hurt anyone.

Kim Richardson: There’s no way. I would stake my life on it.

Despite Skylar’s incriminating statements, Kim and Scott Richardson say they intend to prove Skylar is innocent with the help of their attorneys.

Charlie H. Rittgers | Richardson defense attorney: The prosecutor was trying to say that Skylar Richardson … was a cold-blooded killer. … And it’s quite a leap … once all the evidence is in.


Skylar Richardson spent the weekend in jail, until her family could come up with the $50,000 bond. It was a surreal experience for her parents.

Kim Richardson: It was her physically, but when you looked at her face, she had checked out.

Skylar emerged into a tabloid firestorm.  Following the prosecutor’s sensational press conference, the court imposed a gag order.  But the damage had been done.

WKRC REPORTER: We know a lot more tonight about the Carlisle teen mom accused of the horrific crime of killing her newborn and then burning the baby’s body.

On social media, Skylar and her family were vilified.

Erin Moriarty: In some ways this is like kind of the Salem witch trials.

Kim Richardson: Yes. Very. … Every move we make, everything we do, we’re judged, we’re followed, stalked … We were crucified. And that’s putting it mildly.

WKRC REPORTER: Outside the Warren county courthouse today protestors stood with signs calling for justice for baby Carlisle.

PROTESTER:  Justice for your baby!  We are your baby’s voice!

Kim Richardson: They would take turns sitting out in front of our house, and they would set up a schedule to watch our comings and goings. … I would see pictures of myself out on my back deck.

There were threats. And a constant drumbeat of vitriol. It became difficult for the family to even leave the house.

Kim Richardson: People would claim to know us. … They would take any picture that they could find of Skylar and they would paste pictures of babies faces in it … they found a picture of her with a shovel. And they posted some little baby’s face in it.

Prominent local defense attorneys Charlie M. Rittgers and his father, Charlie H. Rittgers, say this is a case of a false confession.

Charlie M. Rittgers [outside court]: I can tell you that Brooke Skylar Richardson did not kill her baby.

And then, as both sides prepared for trial, Dr. Elizabeth Murray, the forensic anthropologist who reported the remains were burned, retracted her initial assessment after taking another look at the bones. She now said they showed no signs whatsoever of incineration or burning.

Charlie M. Rittgers: And now, every doctor in the case, including the state’s own doctor — agree that that was a false opinion. 

And yet, nothing changed in the prosecutor’s approach. Because Skylar admitted in the interrogation that she tried to cremate the remains, Fornshell refuses to back down or correct the record.

Charlie M. Rittgers: Part of the reason why I think the indictment was so severe is … the first anthropologist in this case … came to an opinion that she has now retracted.  

Erin Moriarty: But has that affected the way people see this case?

Charlie H. Rittgers: Absolutely.  … the jury pool’s been tainted. … And now, this poor girl, our client, Skylar, who … was 18 years old at the time, is facing life in prison.

Skylar was fitted with an ankle bracelet and placed under house arrest. She spent much of her time reading books and hanging out with her dogs. 

Skylar Richardson
Skylar Richardson

CBS News

In the backyard, under a pine tree, her parents placed an angel ornament to mark the spot where Skylar once buried the baby she called Annabelle.

Scott Richardson: She did what she thought she needed to do. Maybe, outside looking in, that was wrong, but in her mind, she just delivered a stillborn baby. … She gently laid the baby down in the ground. … She didn’t have a casket … She buried the baby and laid a flower over top. She put a vase as a marker. You can see it from her window.

As 12 months passed, Skylar’s plans to attend the University of Cincinnati were put on hold.

Kim Richardson: She can’t get a job. She can’t go to school.

The defense filed a motion to move the trial to a different county, but the request was denied.

Kim Richardson: They’ve not listened to anything that Charlie and the team have put together … and taken them into consideration. It’s just all very cold and hard.

Then, in July 2019, the state approached Skylar’s lawyers with an unexpected offer.

Scott Richardson: The prosecutor told Charlie … “I will take aggravated murder off if you plea to the rest of them” …  which still could have been 15 years. 

Brooke Skylar Richardson refused offer from prosecutors before murder trial, parents tell “48 Hours”

Faced with the possibility of life without parole, the Richardsons knew they had a terrible dilemma.  But in the end, the decision was Skylar’s to make.

Kim Richardson: It was a Sunday morning … and she woke up and I can still see her sitting on the couch … and she goes, “I’m not going to plea to something that I didn’t do.” And, in my heart I got sick … but it has to be her decision. End of day, she has to live with this.

Erin Moriarty: That’s gotta be, though, weighing on both of you. The idea that whether she goes to prison for the rest of her life is in your hands.

Charlie H. Rittgers: It’s quite a burden. … There’s no way that she would harm her baby. No way.

On September 3, 2019, despite concerns of a tainted jury pool, a 12-person jury is seated after a single day of voir dire. Assistant prosecuting attorney Steven Knippen delivered his opening statement, with a jaw-dropping quote from a text that Skylar sent to her mom:

Prosecutor Steven Knippen [reading  text aloud in court]: “I am literally speechless with how happy I am. My belly is back OMG and I’m never, ever, ever, ever letting it get like this again.”  … Those are the words that Brooke Richardson texted to her mother just hours after she murdered her infant daughter in the middle of the night and buried her lifeless body in the dirt behind their home.

With the possibility that Skylar’s own words will be her undoing, her family wondered if they made a tragic mistake by not accepting the deal they were offered.

Erin Moriarty: Does that scare the two of you?

Scott Richardson: Yeah, absolutely.

Kim Richardson: She did ask me … “am I doing the right thing?”


For more than two years, Skylar Richardson and her family have been bracing for her trial.

Kim Richardson: I wake up in the morning. Thank God each day it’s another day I at least get to see her and touch her.

The stress and uncertainty have taken a toll.  Skylar, still battling an eating disorder, is virtually wasting away.

Skylar Richardson, still battling an eating disorder, is virtually wasting away, says her mother.

Kim Richardson

Erin Moriarty: How’s Skylar?

Kim Richardson: Not good. … She’s about 90 pounds. She wears kids clothes. … She has no clothes for court. Everything — we have to pin everything on her kind of like sew her in her clothes.

But what doctors say is an illness, the state characterizes as vanity. Prosecutor Steven Knippen quotes from a text Skylar sent her mom just hours after giving birth.

Prosecutor Steven Knippen [reading text aloud in court]: “You’re about to see me looking freaking better than before. OMG.” 

And there’s a selfie that Skylar took at the gym that same afternoon. 

Prosecutor Steven Knippen: Her actions and her statements demonstrate that she had no intention to have this baby.

Prosecutors admit they cannot prove the baby was born alive, but Knippen tells the jury that Skylar herself admitted it.

Prosecutor Steven Knippen: During this interview, Brooke admitted the following, she saw her daughter’s arms moving a little, heard her gurgle, and heard her cry.

That’s when she also told investigators that she might have held her baby “too tight” … and that’s not all.

Prosecutor Steven Knippen: … she attempted to burn that baby after death in order to cremate her.

But defense attorney Charlie M. Rittgers says Skylar just told the police what they wanted to hear.

Charlie M. Rittgers : We know that the police were able to break her down and made her vulnerable and admit to something that is scientifically impossible. … Burning of a baby. This doctor many weeks later said, “I was wrong.” … They disregarded any truth … and they said, well because Skylar said it – we’ll just keep going, we’ll just keep moving forward.

The state calls Dr. Susan Brown, the assistant Warren County Coroner who performed the autopsy on the baby’s remains. 

Prosecutor Julie Kraft: Do you have opinion … as to the cause of baby Richardson’s death?

Dr. Susan Brown: Yes. … Homicidal violence of undetermined etiology …

But when cross-examined by the defense, Dr. Brown concedes there’s no physical evidence that Skylar killed her baby, or that the baby was even born alive:

Charlie H. Rittgers: You cannot tell us to any reasonable degree of scientific certainty, that Annabelle was born alive, is that correct?

Dr. Susan Brown: Based on just the autopsy examination alone, I cannot determine whether it was a live birth.

In fact, under cross-examination, witness after witness, called by the state, concede there is no physical evidence of a live birth, or any trauma or burning of the baby’s bones.  The only evidence comes from Skylar.

Facing  the potential of life in prison if found guilty of aggravated murder in the death of her newborn daughter, Skylar Richardson turned down an offer from prosecutors before the trial that would have thrown out that charge — the most serious against her.

Court TV/Pool

Erin Moriarty: So, if Skylar is convicted, she could be convicted on what she said rather than what she did?

Charles H. Rittgers: Well — exactly.

[Second Interrogation]

LT. JOHN FAINE: …  did you hear her cry?

SKYLAR RICHARDSON: Maybe a little bit.

But why would Skylar kill her own child?  Prosecutors say she never wanted the baby. And they point to the text messages she sent her mother in the days leading up to prom, as Skylar’s biggest concern seemed to be fitting into her dress:

SKYLAR’S TEXT: “I’m just in freak out mode. I want to look amazing again more than anything. I hate being like this so much.”

And there are those texts Skylar sent after giving birth.

Prosecutor Julie Kraft [reading text aloud in court]: “I am literally so excited now just for dinner to wear something cute yayyy my belly is back now i am takin this opportunity to make it amazing.”

But when the defense begins its case, obstetrician Dr. John White takes the stand and tells the jury he believes the baby was not alive at birth.

Dr. John White [testifying]:  She gave birth to a still born infant in the bathroom.

Skylar told investigators that she never cut an umbilical cord, suggesting to Dr. White that the cord may have become detached sometime before or during birth. He also says Skylar’s description of the baby’s appearance is significant. 

Dr. John White [testifying]:  She described Annabelle’s appearance as being really white – and in my experience when you deliver a healthy newborn, they’re almost purple.

Dr. White points out that Skylar only gained 15 pounds during the course of her pregnancy.

At left, Skylar can be seen at 3 months into her pregnancy, at center, at 7 1/2 months, and at right, in May 2017, less than two days before giving birth.  

Kim Richardson

According to Dr. White, Skylar’s eating disorder may have restricted the baby’s development in the womb.

Dr. John White [testifying]:  Fetal growth restriction increases the risk of intrauterine demise or neonatal death.

Later, an expert on police interviews explains to the jury how certain police tactics can result in false confessions.   

And certain people are more susceptible says Dr. Stuart Bassman, a clinical psychologist who spent hours interviewing Skylar.

Dr. Stuart Bassman [testifying]: It is my opinion Skylar suffers from a mental disorder that predisposes her to compliance with people in authority. … What stands out to me … about what transpired in the interrogation was a clear sense of intimidating – attempting to convince Skylar to implant a memory … that would incriminate her. 

But Lt. John Faine says that’s not what happened.

Lt. John Faine:  I don’t feel that there was something so powerful or the strong coercion that people are alluding to that’s going to get someone to admit to do things that didn’t happen.

Erin Moriarty: Yeah, but you’re two authority figures, she’s in a closed room, she doesn’t have an attorney, she doesn’t have her parents.

[Second Interrogation]

LT. JOHN FAINE: How did you know the baby was alive just a little bit?

SKYLAR RICHARDSON: I saw her arms maybe a little bit moving.

Erin Moriarty: You don’t think it’s possible that she might’ve just said that, because it would please you? You don’t think that?

Lt. John Faine: I don’t think any answers that she gave in that interrogation, any answer, was with the goal of pleasing us. No, I do not think that.

A week after the trial started, without Skylar ever taking the stand, the prosecution and the defense make their final appeals to the jury. 

Prosecutor Julie Kraft: Unwanted – that’s what Brooke Richardson’s daughter was. Unwanted. To outside observers, Brooke Richardson had a perfect life — she grew up in a small town, she was a cheerleader for the high school football team, she obsessed over her appearance … and she was determined to maintain a perfect life at all cost.

Defense attorney Charlie M. Rittgers: … first instruction, and we’ve heard a lot about it, is burden of proof: the defendant is presumed innocent until guilt can be established beyond reasonable doubt … and it’s their burden, the prosecutors’ burden. … If you have a reason to doubt the live birth, you have to fight for Skylar.

After all the turmoil and high-stakes drama, the case is now in the hands of jurors. Four hours later, they reach a verdict.


On September 12, 2019, Skylar waits for the jury of seven women and five men to decide her future.

Scott Richardson: And that’s the scariest thing.

Would the jury believe Skylar confessed to a murder or would they think she had been pushed into making false statements?

Erin Moriarty: What is the biggest fear right now?

Scott Richardson: That we can’t prove that she’s innocent. … I mean that’s the hardest thing.

No one expects a quick verdict, but then just four hours later, Kim and Scott Richardson return to Judge Donald Oda’s packed courtroom with their daughter Skylar.

Scott Richardson: I almost had to hold her to walk back up because she was a nervous wreck. I wasn’t even sure what to say. I mean, hard to say, “Honey, it’s gonna be OK,” when you don’t know.

Judge Thomas Oda: Has the jury reached a verdict in the case?

Jury foreman: We have.

Kim Richardson: I can see the juror with the envelope and I’m, like, thinking, that’s my daughter’s life. And — I am just praying. Not guilty. Not guilty. Not guilty.

Judge Oda:[reading verdict]: We the jury find the defendant as to count one, not guilty in the offense of aggravated murder.

Not guilty of aggravated murder.  Not guilty of involuntary manslaughter. Not guilty of child endangerment. 

Skylar Richatrdson, so stoic at trial, is overwhelmed when the verdict is read

Court TV/Pool

Kim Richardson: I just wanted to fall to my knees. She did the right thing by not taking the plea. I just wanted to be, like “you were right.” We felt free.

But because Skylar buried Annabelle in the backyard, she is convicted of gross abuse of a corpse, a felony that carries up to a year in prison. The judge orders Skylar held in jail until sentencing.

Her parents watch in shock as Skylar is led away in handcuffs.

Following the verdict, District Attorney David Fornshell denies that he pursued a case with insufficient evidence:

PROSECUTOR DAVID FORNSHELL [to reporters]: Brooke Richardson created the situation that prevented us from being able to conduct an autopsy on that baby girl. And in a sense — it feels like she’s been rewarded.

Erin Moriarty: Do you think you are owed an apology by the D.A.?

Scott Richardson: Honestly, I don’t care if I ever see ’em again in my life. It’s pretty clear at this point they didn’t make the right decision. They’re incapable of admitting they made a mistake.

Erin Moriarty: Do you think the jurors, by this verdict, were obviously able to discount what Skylar said in both interrogations?

Charlie H. Rittgers: We know that most people think, “well, I would never admit to something I didn’t do.” … And I think our jury at least got to hear a little bit about false confessions that helped them decide this case.

One day after the verdict, Skylar is back in court for sentencing and for the first time, she publicly speaks:

Skylar Richardson: Thank you, your honor. I just wanted to say how sorry I was. I can sometimes be selfish, but I would like to think that I’ve become better with the knowledge that I’ve upset everyone and hurt so many people with what I’ve done and I’m forever sorry and I am so sorry. I — I am really, really sorry and I understand and thank you. 

Seemingly unmoved, Judge Oda delivers a stern message:

Judge Oda: I firmly believe Ms. Richardson, in fact I know in my heart that if you would have made different decisions Anabelle would be here today. But I think that your choices before birth, during birth and after show a grotesque disregard for life.

“Grotesque disregard for life”: Former high school cheerleader sentenced to probation after burying newborn

Skylar is sentenced to three years of probation — a far cry from life in prison.

Erin Moriarty: What does this now mean for the family?

Charlie H. Rittgers: It’s a relief that it’s over. They now know that they don’t have to worry about losing their daughter. Now they can plan for the future.

Kim Richardson: Before, she will tell you, “I had nothing to live for. Nothing.”

Scott Richardson: She was too scared to look that far ahead —

Kim Richardson: Too scared. Too scared to dream.

Erin Moriarty: Tell me who you see now.

Scott Richardson: Well, she’s grown up a lot. She’s got — a resiliency. Some inner strength that, you know [cries]. You always hope it’s there. You just got to let it come out. She’s a great kid. And, hopefully, she’s gonna bounce back from this. And I think she will.

In September 2019, Skylar entered into an eating disorder treatment program.  

Kim Richardson: It’s a lifelong illness. She’ll have this all of her life. But we can do this.

But Kim and Scott Richardson will also have to grapple with the mistakes they made and lives that will never be quite the same.

Following the verdict, Annabelle’s remains were returned to the Richardson family. She was laid to rest in a private ceremony.

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Erin Moriarty: You come out here a lot?

Kim Richardson: Yeah, I do. To visit.

The angel still marks the site where Annabelle once was. 

Kim Richardson: …It’s heartbreaking, but this is all we have. Sometimes I just need to feel close to her. I always tell her that, you know, she’s loved. And she would have been loved. And she’s always in our hearts.


If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

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