2 weeks to trial: What’s next after judge denies defense motions in Carlisle buried baby case

A Warren County Common Pleas judge has denied three pivotal motions filed by the defense in the case of a Carlisle woman accused of killing her newborn and burying her in her parents’ backyard in 2017.

Two weeks before Brooke Skylar Richardson’s trial is scheduled to begin, Judge Donald Oda II denied motions filed by Richardson’s attorneys, Charles H. and Charles M. Rittgers and Neal Schuett, for the jury to view the alleged crime scene, for the indictment to be dismissed and to move the trial out of Warren County.

Richardson, now 20, is charged with aggravated murder, involuntary manslaughter, endangering children, tampering with evidence and abuse of a corpse. Her trial, set to last three weeks, is scheduled to begin Sept. 3.

MORE: Defense asks to move the Carlisle bured baby case out of Warren County 

Late Friday, the defense team filed a second motion for change of venue, accompanied with more than 150 pages of “documented” instances of print, video, internet and social media coverage, that the defense said is prejudicial to Richardson receiving a fair trial in Warren County.

“The media exposure of this case to the people of Warren County relative to its size favors a change of venue,” the attorneys wrote in the motion.

“As demonstrated by the voluminous, documented instances of coverage attached as exhibits to this motion, Warren County has been bombarded with video, print, internet, and social media coverage that in the modern era dwarfs what was possible at the time (of a 1963 court case cited by defense).”

The extensive documentation includes tweets from local and national media reporting on the case for more that two years. There are links to national and local news stories, including those produced by the Journal-News, and other social media posts, including from the Facebook page “Justice for Carlisle Baby.”

“As these examples and the accompanying full list of posts makes clear, the public fervor against Ms. Richardson is fervent and violent,” the defense wrote. “Ms. Richardson’s home county, where the coverage has been most pronounced, is therefore not an appropriate venue for this trial.”

MORE: Prosecution: Motion to dismiss Carlisle buried baby charges ‘groundless’

Also in the motion is an argument that the prosecution was “blatantly prejudicial” because “misleading and false statements were made at a press conference after Richardson’s arrest and during oral arguments about medical records at the 12th District Court of Appeals.”

In a four-line ruling, Oda denied the change of venue motion, “for the reasons set forth in the entry and order dated March 1, 2018.”

Oda ruled in 2018 that questioning of the potential jurors will have to take place to determine if pre-trial publicity has had any impact on the jury pool.

The judge’s denial of the jury view of Richardson’s parents’ house, Oda was also brief, citing his previous denial on April 3, 2018.

In his reasoning in 2018, the judge said the jury views are not proper in this case and noted that, in such views, jurors are instructed the view of the scene is not evidence “and the only purpose of the visit is to help the jury understand evidence as it is presented in the courtroom.”

Oda said the view of the inside of the Richardson home is “inherently problematic.”

“It is nearly impossible to insulate the jury from extraneous matters and there is substantial risk that the jury will form opinions based on the nature, appearance and/or ‘feel’ of the home that will bleed into their subsequent deliberations,” Oda said.

MORE: Defense team wants diary, lighter fluid exculded in Carlisle burie baby trial 

The judge rejected the defense’s argument the indictment be dismissed because information was presented to a grand jury about the baby being charred that a forensic anthropologist who examined the remains later recanted. The defense also requested to view the grand jury testimony of that forensic anthropologist.

In his denial, Oda said the motion had not been filed in a timely matter as required by law.

“The defendant provides no explanation in her motion why she has waited until less than six weeks before trial to present that pretrial motion - particularly in light of the fact that this is the second time the matter has been set for trial,” Oda wrote in the motion.

He also denied the defense’s request for grand jury testimony of the witness.

“At best, the evidence in support of the motion shows that the expert’s opinion may have shifted based on subsequent review. This is not sufficient to revisit the indictment or release grand jury testimony,” Oda said.

During the final pre-trial hearing Monday morning, nothing was placed on the record in the courtroom. Richardson was in the Warren County Justice Center but was not visible to the media.

A defense motion to exclude ligher fluid and a diary, both taken by law enforcement from the Richardson home, will be ruled on at trial or closer to trial if the prosecution plans to introduce the evidence.

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