The defense finished its case Wednesday in the Carlisle buried baby trial of Brooke Skylar Richardson with character witnesses, including her brother, who said they didn’t believe the 20-year-old could hurt anyone and a psychologist who said she has a mental disorder.
It was the seventh day of the high-profile trial of Richardson, who is charged with is charged with aggravated murder, involuntary manslaughter, child endangering and abuse of a corpse in the death of her baby on May 7, 2017.
The prosecution says Richardson hid her pregnancy, then delivered and murdered her baby. The defense claims the baby was stillborn, and both sides agree Richardson buried the baby in the backyard, where the remains were uncovered more than two months later.
The defense rested on Wednesday afternoon, and closing statements are scheduled to begin this morning.
Defense attorneys started Wednesday by calling Chris Curry, an English teacher at Carlisle High School. He said Richardson wrote an essay on her struggles with her eating disorders, which has been an important point for the defense to show she had weight and health issues that could have affected her baby and her realization that she was pregnant.
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Curry said she “was well-liked and popular,” but he noticed on many occasions she would sit with just one other student for lunch.
Ashley Brown, a classmate of Richardson’s at Carlisle, said Richardson was not a confrontational person, and she was kind to all students.
The prosecution then asked a similar set of questions as it has with other character witnesses for Richardson: If they believe she would never harm her baby, wouldn’t they also believe she wouldn’t hide her pregnancy and have a baby in secret, which she did?
“When everything came out I was shocked,” Brown said.
Richardson’s brother, Jackson, took the stand a day after his father, Scott, gave emotional testimony on behalf of his daughter. He said Richardson had eating problems and would hide food, and he would sometimes hear her throwing up.
“I just wanted her to be happy,” he said.
Richardson appeared to tear up at times watching her brother’s testimony. The Carlisle High School senior said his sister is his best friend.
The family dog, Norman, sleeps with Richardsonand is a “lover” but will bark at anything, Jackson Richardson told the jury. The defense has brought up the noisy dogs with several witnesses, noting they certainly would have barked at a baby crying if she had been born alive.
Dr. Stuart Bassman, a psychologist who examined Richardson, testified during defense questioning that Richardson has a “mental disorder” that predisposes her to complying with authority. That supports the defense’s point that Richardson made admissions to police in a second interrogation about possibly burning her baby because they were pressuring her.
Bassman later said Richardson told him she was abused sexually by a boy who was older and she looked up to when she was 12 years old. At that time Richardson, was insecure about her appearance, which led her to trust the boy who gave her attention, Richardson told Bassman.
During cross examination, Assistant Prosecutor Julie Kraft showed Bassman a study about neonaticide, which is the deliberate act of the mother murdering her child in the first 24 hours of life. Kraft noted that many of the characteristics of mothers in the study rang true of his diagnosis of Richardson.
Kraft said just because Richardson has a dependent personality disorder doesn’t mean she didn’t kill her baby.
“It doesn’t mean she did,” Bassman said.
In the second interrogation, investigators pushed Richardson to admit she killed and burned her baby. They had been told by a forensic pathologist that the baby’s remains were charred, although the pathologist later recanted that belief.
The defense claims police were overzealous in questioning Richardson because they believed at the time she burned her baby.
Bassman said Richardson “was not able to defend herself” in that questioning by police, given her dependent personality disorder. Her statements, shown by video to the jury earlier in the week, included:
“She fell. She might have bumped her head a little.”
“I have given you all the truth. I told you about squeezing her and I think I might have killed her.”
“Maybe a little noise. A gurgle” (about hearing noises from her baby after birth).
“A little. I did it a little” (when asked if she tried to cremate her baby).
Bassman says Richardson was being manipulated by the detectives.
The detectives continued to use leading statements, “attempted to say things that she knew in her heart were not true, but because of her personality disorder, she could not protect herself,” Bassman said.
During cross examination of Bassman, Kraft suggested that Richardson felt a similar fear of her family. Kraft asked Bassman about stressors that could make Richardson make false statements, and she continued to suggest that Richardson was afraid of her parents, which would cause her to go to any extreme to conceal her baby.
Dr. Mark LeVaughn, a forensic pathologist in Mississippi, testified for the the defense and said the mode and manner of the baby’s death is undetermined. That contradicts the prosecution’s pathologist, who testified earlier in the trial the baby’s death was a homicide from trauma, based not only on the remains, but also Richardson’s words in the interrogation tapes and her actions after.
The defense did not call Richardson to the stand in her own defense and did not call mother, Kim Richardson, who the prosecution says was obsessed with her daughter’s weight and “cheered her on” to lose weight.
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