Former Ohio high school cheerleader Brooke Skylar Richardson was sentenced to three years of probation for the gross abuse of a corpse Friday, just one day after a jury found her not guilty of murdering her newborn baby.
Judge Donald Oda handed down the sentence — which included seven days of jail time credited as time served —despite his belief that she had acted with “gross disregard for life” before, during, and after her labor.
“I know in my heart that if you would have made different decisions in this case, Annabelle would be here today,” he said referring to her newborn daughter, according to a press conference aired by WRGT-TV.
However, Oda said he was restricted by the law that dictated what sentence he could impose.
“In all of this mess that we have with this case, I think what often gets overlooked Ms. Richardson is just how precious life is, your life, Annabelle’s life,” he told her Friday. “Life is precious and it should be protected.”
Oda also agreed to turn the remains of the baby — who Richardson had maintained was not alive when she was born — over to the Richardson family for a proper burial, The Cincinnati Enquirer reports.
The baby’s final resting place must also be accessible to the family of the baby’s father, Trey Johnson.
Johnson’s mother, Tracy Johnson, addressed the court before the sentence was handed down to express how devastating the events of her granddaughter’s death had been for the family.
“Two years, four months, one week. Just in case you were wondering, that’s how old my granddaughter would be if she were here today,” she said in the emotional statement. “As hard as I’ve tried to find the right words to describe —broken, shattered, destroyed — none of it seemed to fit the amount of pain I have felt ever since we found out that not only did I lose my first grandchild, but my baby that I would lay down my life for without a thought, lost his first child.”
She argued that Richardson had “no intention” of letting the family know that the baby had ever existed even though the Johnsons were “just as much her family as Skylar is.”
Her son didn’t discover he was the father of the baby until January 2018 — months after the baby’s May 2017 birth.
Prosecutors had argued during the trial that Richardson kept her pregnancy a secret, then killed the baby after it was born and buried the little girl’s remains in the backyard of her home while the rest of her family slept.
However, a jury found earlier this week that there was not enough evidence to suggest that Richardson had intentionally or unintentionally taken the baby’s life.
Her attorneys maintained that the baby had been stillborn and that Richardson panicked and buried her outside in a makeshift grave because she didn’t know what else to do.
The jury found her guilty of gross abuse of a corpse for her actions after the baby the died.
Tracy Johnson said Friday that had she known about the pregnancy, she would have agreed to raise the child with her son.
“Now instead, every May 7, I don’t get to have a birthday party for my first grandchild,” she said. “Instead I get to send a balloon with notes to heaven telling her how much her daddy loves her, how much I love her, how much we all love her, and how much we all wanted her.”
Richardson herself also addressed the court to apologize for her actions.
“I just wanted to say how sorry I was,” she said in the brief remarks. “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.”
While prosecutors had asked for six months of jail time — arguing that Richardson had “never intended for anyone to even know that her daughter existed or that the skeletal remains would ever be discovered” — her defense team asked for a more lenient sentence.
According to her defense attorneys, Richardson suffers from a severe eating disorder and had dropped to just 89 pounds and was losing her hair due to the stress of the trial.
Her father, Scott Richardson, also asked for leniency.
“My daughter is suffering from an eating disorder and we are concerned for her health,” he said in court. “Anything you can do to help us get her home soon so we can take care of her would be greatly appreciated.”
After leaving court Friday, Richardson was allowed to return home.
Crime Time is your destination for true crime stories from around the world, breaking crime news, and information about Oxygen's original true crime shows and documentaries. Sign up for our Crime Time Newsletter and subscribe to our true crime podcast Martinis & Murder for all the best true crime content.