The former Ohio high school cheerleader who was cleared in September of charges she murdered her newborn baby has started serving a three-year probation sentence for gross abuse of a corpse. But now, what she really wants is for those who followed her case to know how she really feels.
“I knew in my heart of hearts that I was innocent,” Brooke Skylar Richardson said in an exclusive interview with Cosmopolitan on Monday, explaining her decision to face trial, risking life in prison, rather than take a plea deal.
Richardson, 20, went to trial on aggravated murder and involuntary manslaughter charges in September after she was accused of giving birth to her baby in the dead of the night on May 7, 2017, killing the infant and burying it in her backyard.
Now, although she's no longer under suspicion of murder, Richardson is a grieving mother haunted by the trauma of losing her baby, as well as the experience of having her private life put on display at trial, she told Cosmopolitan.
“It was so hard to live knowing the truth, but to have the whole world think otherwise,” she said. “The people out there who hate me so much and wish horrible things upon me also do not know me.”
Living with her parents and working in the office of her defense attorneys, Charlie H. and Charlie M. Rittgers, has restored some of her confidence. Still, the anger and scrutiny from social media remains, Richardson said. She suffers from panic attacks and chest pains.
“I’m still living with a lot of fear,” she told Cosmopolitan. “The past two years have been nothing short of a nightmare. After being constantly afraid and paranoid of everyone and everything around me, I’m having a hard time letting that go.”
The paranoia came from having her home literally staked out by social media sleuths and her photos snapped surreptitiously whenever she ventured into public. The administrator of a Facebook group dedicated to Richardson’s case would park directly in front of her home, according to Richardson, watching for any sign of her.
One photo appeared online showing her in the grocery store buying orange juice, with the caption, “Anyone see Brooke aka baby killer in Middletown Kroger?” Others were taken at chillingly close proximity at public events, Richardson told Cosmopolitan.
One of her closest friends, Ashley, called what happened to Richardson “sickening.”
“It’s a small community — nothing like this ever happens in Carlisle — and people love drama,” Ashley said. “They wanted the story to be as crazy as possible.”
Then there is the grief itself.
Richardson named her baby “Annabelle” before she buried her, and she visits her resting place often, she told Cosmopolitan. She lays pink flowers on the ground once a week.
“It’s such a relief to know that Annabelle is now in her final resting spot,” Richardson said.
Richardson was initially accused of burning her baby — possibly while it was still alive. Incendiary headlines and Facebook groups sprouted, painting her as a monster.
People online decreed that Skylar should be “burned alive” or “have her uterus ripped out,” according to Cosmopolitan. The actual circumstances on the night of Annabelle’s birth and death were much simpler — and sadder — than the picture painted on the headlines, however, Richardson said. She suffered shock and denial, and felt most guilty about not telling anyone about the pregnancy beforehand.
“These things just happen — babies are stillborn — women shouldn’t be blamed for that,” her friend Ashley said. “It’s sickening what they have done to her.”
Richardson recalled the crippling stomach cramps she experienced on that day in May 2017. She thought she had months still to go in the secret pregnancy, however.
Sitting on the toilet, she “felt that something needed to come out,” she told Cosmopolitan.
Richardson said she tried to catch the baby, but couldn’t, because of how slippery the infant was. When she lifted Annabelle from the toilet, she absolutely was dead, Richardson told Cosmopolitan. There was no movement, and the umbilical cord was detached. The cheerleader felt at the infant’s chest — “I hoped she would start coming alive,” she told police later.
Still bleeding and suffering intense stomach pain, Richardson dug a grave as deep as she could. Then she named the girl Annabelle, buried her and placed some pink flowers on the resting spot, while her family slept upstairs.
Months later, Richardson would confess what had happened to a doctor, who would then report it to authorities. Police interrogations would follow, then September’s trial — at which Richardson’s life and medical history would be made public.
“Inside, I felt like I was dying,” Richardson said. “Very few things have been harder than having to listen to prosecutors allege horrible, unthinkable things of me and put countless photos of my daughter’s bones on a big screen.”
She was eventually acquitted of murder. Prosecutors urged for six months of jail time on the abuse of a corpse charge, but she was instead given three years of probation.
Visibly worn down and suffering from longstanding eating disorders that became worse during trial — she weighed just 89 pounds and was losing her hair — Richardson apologized to the court on Sept. 13, Oxygen.com reported.
“I just wanted to say how sorry I was,” she said. “I may sometimes be selfish, but I would like to think that I have become better in the knowledge that I have upset everyone and hurt so many people with what I’ve done, and I am forever sorry.”
This week, Richardson said she is glad she went to trial, and once she overcomes her PTSD and eating disorders, she plans to study law and one day work for the Ohio Innocence Project.
“I said that if I could survive the trial, I would get all the help I needed,” she told Cosmopolitan. “I want to make the best of my life and use my experiences to help in one way or another.”
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