Judge considers Brooke Skylar Richardson’s request to seal conviction in baby’s death

Motion was filed in August; judge concerned facts would not be accessible.

A Warren County judge in the Brooke Skylar Richardson case will issue a written decision on her request to seal her conviction for abusing her baby’s corpse. But he hinted that he is reluctant to erase the official record of the case containing the “unvarnished” facts of the allegations presented at trial.

Richardson, now 23, was found guilty in September 2019 of gross abuse of a corpse, a fifth-degree felony, following the death of her baby girl, whom she buried in the backyard of her parents’ Carlisle home in May 2017. After a lengthy trial, she was sentenced to three years of community control.

During a brief hearing Tuesday, Common Pleas Judge Donald Oda II acknowledged Richardson’s offense is eligible to be seal, but said he was reluctant to erase all record of the case from the official file.

A sealing of the conviction would essentially mean the case would no longer exist in the criminal justice system. It could not be viewed publicly as part of the clerk of courts’ records.

Prosecutors oppose the motion to seal because it would diminish the seriousness of Richardson’s offense.

The motion requesting a seal was filed in August by her attorney, Charles M. Rittgers, 19 months after Richardson was released early from probation by Oda. The judge who presided over the trial released Richardson after 14 months of her 36-month probation.

ExploreBrooke Skylar Richardson, convicted of abusing baby’s corpse, requests seal

In the opposition to seal the motion, Assistant Warren County Prosecutor Steven Knippen said that without law enforcement’s discovery of a full-term baby girl in Richardson’s backyard, no one would have known the child existed.

“Rather (Richardson) intended to carry on with her life as if nothing occurred, with no consequences or accountability for her treatment of the child’s remains,” Knippen wrote. “Notably now, in seeking to seal this matter, (Richardson) is requesting the court to judicially declare that her treatment of the child’s remains and her conviction for the same ‘shall be considered not to have occurred.’”

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Oda said during the hearing he usually seals cases such as Richardson’s, based on the degree of crime and the good behavior of the defendant while on probation. But he said this was not an ordinary case because of its local and national media coverage.

“There is no dispute that her offense is eligible to be sealed,” Oda said. “And I find she has been rehabilitated to the satisfaction of the court.”

Oda said the interest in this case was significant with local and national media including documentaries, a book, magazine articles, crime news shows and “it even has its own Wikipedia page.”

The judge said he now has to decide if he wants the internet to be the official record of this case.

“My issue is whether or not I want the internet or the record to be the last word on this. The truth about what happened may never be known, but the facts, the unvarnished, unedited, unaltered facts about what is alleged to have occurred are here and I do have a difficult time in taking those records away,” Oda said.

Richardson and both the defense and prosecution declined any additional argument in court.

Richardson, then an 18-year-old high school senior, gave birth to the baby in secret and buried her in the backyard. She was acquitted on charges of aggravated murder, involuntary manslaughter and child endangering after months of litigation and a trial that received national media coverage.

In November 2020, Richardson’s attorney said she has a job, is in college and continues with mental health treatment. Richardson is working part-time for her attorneys’ law firm, Rittgers and Rittgers, while in school, and she intends to study law.

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TRIAL COVERAGE

Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6 | Day 7

‘There was no proof at all’: Juror describes Brooke Skylar Richardson verdict decision

‘Bring closure for Annabelle’: Richardson family to bury baby’s remains more than 2 years later

WATCH all videos from Brooke Skylar Richardson trial

Timeline: Events in the Carlisle buried baby case

Quotes: Key things said during the Richardson trial

The 28 people who testified over 6 days

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