Cheerleader Skylar Richardson, who buried her baby in her backyard after giving birth in secret, walked free from court on Friday with a three year probation sentence after giving a groveling apology to the baby’s father’s family.
Richardson was acquitted of murdering the baby on Thursday after a dramatic trial in Lebanon, Ohio.
In May 2017, she gave birth in the middle of the night on the toilet of her family home and then buried the infant – who she called Annabelle – in her backyard. She was caught two months later after confessing to a gynecologist.
Prosecutors said she murdered Annabelle but she said the baby was a stillborn. A jury took her side and convicted her of gross abuse of a corpse – one of four charges she had been facing – on Thursday.
It carries a maximum sentence of one year behind bars but because Skylar, 20, was a first-time offender, the judge sentenced her to probation.
He scolded her ‘grotesque disregard for life’ but said she was able to go home that day after enduring two years of public scrutiny.
Skylar spoke for the first time throughout the trial before being sentenced. She apologized to the baby’s father’s mother who had spoken moments earlier, on behalf of prosecutors, to ask for a harsher sentence.
The baby’s father was Trey Johnson, a teenager she’d had a fling with in 2016. He never knew she was pregnant and only learned the baby was his after his mother read it on a Facebook group, three months after Skylar’s July 2017 arrest.
Skylar Richardson was sentenced to three years probation on Friday after being convicted of gross abuse of a corpse. She told the court she was ‘so sorry’ and had changed
Skylar told the court that she knew she ‘could be selfish’ but had changed.
‘I would do anything and above that you ask and I understand. I just wanted to say how sorry I was.
‘I can sometimes be selfish, but I would like to think that I’ve become better in the knowledge that I’ve upset everyone and hurt so many people with what I’ve done.
I’ve upset everyone and hurt so many people with what I’ve done. I’m forever sorry
‘I’m forever sorry,’ she said. She then turned to the baby’s paternal grandmother and said: ‘I’m so sorry.’
Turning back to the judge, she finished her plea for leniency with: ‘I’m really sorry and I understand. Thank you.’
Trey’s mother fought tears as she described their ‘grief and loss’. She said she would have raised Annabelle as her own but had never been given the chance and that Skylar’s decisions ‘shattered and devastated’ their family.
‘As we live with our grief and loss, she can now live knowing that her selfish decision was not her only choice. She had a way out.
‘Not only have I lost my first grandchild, but my baby has lost his first child. Skylar had no intention of ever letting us know,’ she said.
Friday’s sentencing hearing was the only time Skylar had spoken throughout the trial
Judge Donald Oda told Skylar she showed a ‘grotesque disregard for life’. He also said he had a daughter her age and a granddaughter the age her baby would be today
The baby’s father was teenager Trey Johnson. He testified at the trial but did not want to be photographed. His mother, Tracy, made a statement on Friday to ask that she be given a harsher sentence. She said she would have raised the baby as her own but that Skylar never gave her the chance
Judge Oda agreed to release the baby’s skeletal remains – which have been held as evidence since they were excavated in July 2018 – to Skylar’s family but said she must give the baby’s father’s family access to them.
Her own father, Scott, also asked the judge for leniency before she was sentenced.
He said he was concerned about her health and that she had a severe eating disorder.
We’ve been living with this case for two years. I’ve always sort of thought of this case as a story of two little girls – Skylar Richardson and Annabelle Richardson.
Skylar’s attorneys said her weight had dropped to just 89lbs throughout the trial and that she needed to seek care.
‘She is down to 89lbs. 89lbs! She’s losing her hair,’ he said, adding that she had to be hospitalized once during the trial because her potassium levels had dropped so drastically.
Judge Oda said he had a daughter Skylar’s age and a granddaughter the age Annabelle would be today.
‘We’ve been living with this case for two years. I’ve always sort of thought of this case as a story of two little girls – Skylar Richardson and Annabelle Richardson.
‘I have a daughter your age and I have a granddaughter the age Annabelle would be now. In all of the mess we have in this case, what often gets overlooked is just how precious life is.
Skylar’s father Scott also spoke. He asked the judge to grant her leniency because she has a severe eating disorder and is in need of care. He said: ‘Anything you can do to get her home sooner would be greatly appreciated’. Her attorneys said she now weighs just 89lbs and her hair is falling out
‘Your life. Annabelle’s life. It should be protected and guarded in all respects.
‘I have reviewed all of the expert reports. I firmly believe, I know in my heart, that if you would have made different decisions, Annabelle would be here today. That might be difficult for you to hear.
‘Some people are inclined to think, “Well this is America, we kill unborn babies here everyday.”
Your choices, before birth, during birth and after, show a grotesque disregard for life.’
‘I don’t look at it that way. I think your choices, before birth, during birth and after, show a grotesque disregard for life.’
He also spoke about how the case had divided the community and the extra steps he took to afford both sides transparency.
‘This has been an extraordinarily high profile case. Lots of people in the community are talking about this case. Everybody has an opinion on the case, everybody in Warren County has the court TV app on their phone now.
‘Prior to the case, the court took a cooperative effort with our friends in the media to make sure the evidence was available for everyone to see.
‘I allowed cameras in the courtroom…we even drilled a hole in the side of the building so we could run the wires out to the van.’
Richardson, 20, had been facing life in prison if convicted of all the charges. She buckled in tears, as did her mother behind her, and fell into the arms of one of her attorneys as the not guilty verdicts were read out on Thursday
Since July 2017, Skylar has spent seven days in custody.
On Thursday, Skylar wept as the verdict was read out in court and told her parents as she was led away in handcuffs afterwards ‘I love you’.
Her mother Kim whispered back to her: ‘We love you baby… it’ll be OK.’
She spent the night in jail before being sentenced on Friday morning.
In May 2017, Skylar gave birth in the middle of the night to a baby girl she called Annabelle.
She told no one that she was pregnant and her family says they could not tell because her weight fluctuated so much as it was.
Skylar said she gave birth to a stillborn on the toilet in the upstairs bathroom of her family home in Carlisle, Ohio.
She buried the baby afterwards in her backyard and was caught two months later when she tearfully confessed to a gynecologist what she had done.
Prosecutors believe the baby was born alive and that Skylar killed her because she did not want her to intervene with her ‘perfect life’.
They also claimed that she set fire to it, initially basing the allegation on the finding from a pathologist who said the bones – once they had been excavated – looked burned.
The pathologist later recanted her claim but before she did, detectives interviewed Skylar for a second time.
During that interview she confessed to ‘trying to cremate her a little’ after being told by them repeatedly that they ‘knew she did something with fire’.
Skylar was convicted of gross abuse of a corpse, a felony which carries a maximum prison sentence of one year
Skylar turned to her parents who reassured her: ‘We love you baby, it’ll be OK’
The 20-year-old muttered to herself ‘OK..OK..OK’ as she was led away in handcuffs
Skylar’s attorneys argued that the confession was coerced.
She had denied burning the baby or harming it several times in that interview and during her first, two-hour interview where she said the baby was still born.
On Thursday, both prosecutors and defense attorneys presented their closing arguments.
Prosecutors said it was ‘convenient’ for her to have given birth to a dead baby and asked jurors not to believe her.
‘All of the stars did not just align for her to have a stillborn child that she didn’t want, told no one about, made no preparations for and concealed and buried her in the backyard, all so that she could maintain the appearance and image of her perfect life.
‘That’s ridiculous,’ one of the prosecutors said.
They also referred back to a text message Skylar sent her mother in the hours after she delivered the baby where she said she was happy to have her ‘belly back’.
The message read: ‘I’m literally speachless (sic) with how happy am… I am literally so excited now just for dinner to wear something cute yayyyy my belly is back and now I’m takin(sic) this opportunity to make it amazing.’
Prosecutors showed the jury this photograph of the infant’s skeletal remains after they were dug up from the family’s yard
Her mother, Kim, was obsessed with her daughter’s weight and they frequently discussed it.
The jury deliberated for three hours then returned two questions to the court.
They asked: ‘Can we please have a simplified definition of abuse of a corpse’ and ‘Is it against the LAW to bury a body in your yard without knowledge.’
The judge referred them to earlier instructions.
On Wednesday, as the defense rested its case, they called on a psychologist who had treated Skylar when she was younger to testify.
He said that she had been sexually abused as a 12-year-old boy a ‘boy’ she trusted and ‘looked up to’ and that it had given her a personality disorder.
The personality disorder, he said, fed her anorexia and made her eager to please.
Pregnant at prom: Skylar gave birth two days after this photo was taken. Despite having a baby bump, no one in her family or group of friends knew she was pregnant. They said she often went up and down in weight
Skylar is pictured on May 5, two days before she gave birth, with her then boyfriend Brandon Saylor before they went to prom. He was not the baby’s father and began dating Skylar when she was already pregnant
Skylar and Brandon are pictured in March 2017, around six weeks before she gave birth, during a Spring Break trip
The defense showed photos of the upstairs bathroom in Skylar’s home where she gave birth to the baby quietly in the middle of the night in May 2017
They also showed images of the teenager’s bedroom, where she went into labor
‘Skylar shared with me, when she was 12 or so, she was having insecurity about her appearance, whether she would be liked, whether she would be accepted, typical behavior… so a boy started showing her attention, a boy that Skylar looked up to, who Skylar admired.
‘She began to respond, and then he began to abuse her. He began to abuse her sexually,’ Dr. Stuart Bassman said.
He went on to say that as a result of the incident and the subsequent ‘disorder’, she was ‘unable to defend herself’.
Prosecutors objected to the testimony, claiming it was irrelevant.
Other witnesses called to the stand were high school teachers at her school who said she often sat with autistic children at lunch so that they did not have to eat alone, and her classmates who say she was so meek at school that they had to defend her from bullies.
‘I’ve never even seen Skylar be mean to another human being she would never hurt another human being, especially her own baby,’ one teenage girl said.
The teenager took this selfie hours after giving birth after going to the gym on May 7, 2017
As part of their defense, Skylar’s attorneys showed photos of how her weight fluctuated before she became pregnant (above) within the space of six months. She’d suffered from anorexia for years beforehand, her family says, and was under pressure from her mother to stay slim
Skylar is shown in during her second police interview last July where she told police she set fire to her baby
Her younger brother, Jackson, also testified.
He described her as his ‘best friend’ and recalled how she would sneak food, like donuts, while her parents were not home.
Prosecutors said Skylar did not want a baby to intervene with her ‘perfect life’
Skylar cried as he spoke.
The defense’s final witness was a marketing expert who had made a virtual design of the family’s home.
It is unclear why they called him beyond trying to humanize Skylar and show the bathroom where she gave birth and her bedroom.
The teenager conceived Annabelle in August 2016 after a brief fling with another teen, Trey Johnson.
She says she did know that she was pregnant until April 2017, long after she had broken up with Johnson, during a visit to a gynecologist to obtain birth control pills.
The doctors told her she had around 10 weeks to deliver the baby, but 11 days later, she have birth at around 3am in her family home.
Skylar did not tell anyone in the 11 days between the two incidents that she was pregnant. She convinced her mother, who received an email which referred to her being pregnant, that it was a mistake and started taking birth control pills.
She said later that she did not know what she would do when the baby was born and that she ‘didn’t think about it’.
After giving birth to the baby, Skylar dug her a shallow grave in her family’s yard and buried it, marking the spot with flowers.
She then returned to the gynecologist, looking for more birth control pills, and confessed to what she had done when asked by the doctor what became of her pregnancy.
Prosecutors shared photos of the baby’s grave and her bones in their closing arguments and also included the text Skylar sent her mother about her belly being ‘back’ in the hours after she gave birth but it was not enough to convince the jury that she wanted the baby dead
On July 14, she was taken in for questioning by the police. During the interrogation, she said she’d given birth to a stillborn and panicked afterwards so buried her in the yard.
She was released without charge.
Six days later, on July 20, she was hauled back to the police station. There, detectives told her that they ‘knew’ she had tried to set fire to the baby or the area around the baby.
They were basing their comments on a claim made by a forensic pathologist who had been asked to consult on the case. That pathologist told them that because the bones they had excavated in Skylar’s yard looked slightly darker, they believed they had been charred.
The pathologist later changed their opinion and another has since admitted that there is no physical evidence on the baby’s body to show it was in any way burned.
But in her second police interview, after denying burning the baby at all multiple times, Skylar told the detectives, at their direction, that she had tried to ‘cremate’ the baby with a lighter.
She also said she ‘might’ have squeezed her ‘too hard’ and that while she thought the baby was born dead, she might have in fact accidentally killed her.
Skylar’s father Scott took the stand on Tuesday and told the court it was the biggest regret of his life that his daughter did not have an attorney present for the second interview.