Trial on hold, but attention remains on baby death case

LEBANON, Ohio (AP) — A former high school cheerleader’s trial on charges she killed and buried her newborn baby near her family’s house in an Ohio village is on hold, as intense attention and speculation continue to swirl around the case.

Attorneys for Brooke Skylar Richardson want a ruling to bar prosecutors from presenting testimony from an obstetrics-gynecology practice’s medical staff, citing physician-patient privilege that she won’t give up. Prosecutors said the privilege doesn’t apply in this case.

A trial that was scheduled to begin Monday in Warren County Court is delayed while an appeals court weighs the issue.

Authorities first learned of the baby from a doctor. The remains were found last July. Prosecutors say Richardson buried the full-term baby shortly after giving birth within days after her senior prom in early May 2017 in Carlisle, a village of some 5,000 people 40 miles (64 kilometers) north of Cincinnati.

Her defense attorneys say she didn’t kill the baby — it was stillborn — and that an expert witness concluded there was no sign of burning or of trauma that would have caused the baby’s death.

County Prosecutor David Fornshell said Skylar, as she is known, and her family had been worried about community reaction to her out-of-wedlock pregnancy.

“Skylar and her family, particularly her mother, were pretty obsessed with external appearances and how things appeared to the outside world,” Fornshell said. “You have a situation where, you know, she’s a cute high school, recent high school graduate; she was a cheerleader described (as) a good girl by her attorney as you heard after the arraignment. And I think that kind of perception is one that Skylar wanted to perpetuate and her mother wanted to perpetuate.”

The storyline of an appearances-driven cheerleader who would kill, burn and bury her newborn, as authorities alleged, took off. The case was examined in national magazines such as “People” and “Cosmopolitan,” was debated on cable TV crime shows, and argued relentlessly in a divided community.

Two Facebooks pages have been dedicated to the case and critics of the family have shot and posted video and photos of the family and their home, often with sharp commentary.

Her defense attorneys, the locally prominent father-and-son team of Charles H. Rittgers and Charles M. Rittgers, have blasted prosecutors for “a false narrative” that sensationalized the case.

“What started as an 18-year-old high school girl who was frightened and saddened because of giving birth to a stillborn baby whom she named Annabelle and then telling her doctor of the stillborn and burial in the backyard turned into something sinister and grotesque,” they said in a motion to move the trial.

Judge Donald Oda declined the change of venue request, saying he would try to seat a jury first.

All the attention reminds some of a high-profile Warren County case in which a young husband was accused in 2008 of drowning his wife in their suburban home’s bathtub. Ryan Widmer is serving 15 years to life after being convicted of murder in his third trial.

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Follow Dan Sewell at http://www.twitter.com/dansewell

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