NAACP president criticizes judge’s decision to seal Brooke Skylar Richardson’s conviction

Derrick Foward says it’s the most egregious miscarriage of justice since Brock Turner case.

One day after a Warren County judge in the Brooke Skylar Richardson case issued a written opinion sealing her conviction for abusing her baby’s corpse, the president of the Dayton unit of the NAACP criticized the judge’s decision.

“The message that Judge Donald E. Oda II sent to the American people by sealing the record of Brooke Skylar Richardson in a mysterious death and burial of her own baby girl, is one of the most egregious miscarriages of justice of the Ohio judicial system, since the Brock Allen Turner rape case. Both cases smell of white privilege to the nth degree. Sentencing disparities are real, and has an adverse effect on people of color. This is why the Dayton NAACP urges the voting public to get to know their judicial candidates and vote for the person who has a track record of administering sentences fairly,” Derrick Foward, president of the Dayton Unit NAACP, said in statement.

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 last month, Oda acknowledged Richardson’s offense is eligible to be sealed, but said he was reluctant to erase all record of the case from the official file.

But on Monday, Oda granted Richardson’s request and ordered the “official records pertaining to the case shall be sealed, all index references hereto shall be deleted and the proceedings in this case shall be deemed not to have occurred.”

A sealing of the conviction essentially means the case no longer exists in the criminal justice system. It cannot be viewed publicly as part of the clerk of courts’ records.

Oda declined to comment on the statement by Foward.

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

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

Rittgers declined to comment on Foward’s statement.

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Oda said during last month’s 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.”

In the written opinion, Oda said “the court finds defendant has significant interest in having the conviction sealed. The public also has a significant interest for government to maintain the records. However, the court finds the defendant’s interest in this matter outweighs the legitimate needs of the State of Ohio to maintain these records.”

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.

Lauren Pack contributed to this story.

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