The trial of the former cheerleader accused of murdering her newborn baby — and then cleared of it — captured global attention because of the brutal and heinous nature of the alleged crime.

Prosecutors claimed Brooke Skylar Richardson was 18 when she gave birth to a little girl she named Annabelle in May 2017 in secret in the bathroom of her parents' home in the village of Carlisle, just north of Cincinnati. Not wanting to be a single mum, they said she killed her baby by crushing the little girl's skull, setting her on fire and burying the body the backyard.

However, Ms Richardson always denied murdering her baby, claiming Annabelle was stillborn.

The "sinister and grotesque" case shocked the world and came to a climatic close when Ms Richardson, now 20, was cleared of murder on Thursday in Ohio, US.


Twelve jurors, made up of seven women and five men, found Ms Richardson not guilty of aggravated murder, not guilty of involuntary manslaughter, not guilty of child endangerment and guilty of abuse of a corpse, verdict reached in less than five hours, according to local outlet WCPO.

So what really happened to Ms Richardson and her baby on the early hours of May 7?

Ms Richardson was acquitted of murder, involuntary manslaughter and child endangerment. Photo / CourtTV
Ms Richardson was acquitted of murder, involuntary manslaughter and child endangerment. Photo / CourtTV


Ms Richardson's lawyers have always argued she was "an 18-year-old high school girl who was frightened and saddened because of giving birth to a stillborn baby". The physician reported the incident to police who soon located the child's remains — which led to Ms Richardson's shocking charges.

Up until this point, no one knew about Ms Richardson's pregnancy. She'd kept it secret and photos from that time, including a bikini shot taken on a holiday to Florida with her then boyfriend Brandon Saylor, showed she didn't have a visible bump.

Mr Saylor was not the baby's father. Annabelle's dad is Trey Johnson, a different teenager who Ms Richardson dated briefly in the summer of 2016.

In court, assistant prosecutor Julie Kraft said Ms Richardson didn't tell anyone when she gave birth to her daughter, arguing she never intended to keep her baby.

"Brooke took her own daughter's life, destroyed all evidence of her birth and buried her in the backyard," Ms Kraft said.


However, Ms Richardson's legal team argued she kept quiet because she didn't realise she was due so soon, and her response was normal for a scared teenager.

According to a report in WCPO, they argued her panicked, furtive reactions to learning of her pregnancy were not necessarily signs of malice — just terror.


Defence lawyer Charles M. Rittgers also pointed to inaccuracies in the investigation, accusing prosecutors of creating "a false narrative" to sensationalise the case.

Prosecutors initially reported the body had been burned, but additional forensic analysis concluded it was not.

Mr Rittgers said the state failed to mention a detective in the case wrote in a police report that Ms Richardson torched the baby with a lighter and flames went up to the baby's chest.

Dr Mark Levaughn, a forensic pathologist who gave evidence in court, said the cause and manner of the newborn's death was undetermined, WCPO reported.

Dr Levaughn reviewed several documents and examined the newborn's remains and came to the conclusion the bones showed no evidence of burning or violent traumatic injury. Dr Levaughn also said there was "absolutely no identifiable evidence of live birth".

It was also determined that examining the bones of a corpse cannot show signs of suffocation or drowning.

Gynaecologist Dr John E. White told the court Ms Richardson's pregnancy was affected by intra-uterine growth restriction (IUGR), a condition in which the foetus does not grow at a normal rate, WCPO reported.

He said the way Ms Richardson described her newborn to authorities — white, not breathing or moving and with no heartbeat — was consistent with a stillbirth.

Ms Richardson was a 'frightened schoolgirl' who was 'saddened' by the birth of her stillborn baby. Photo / Supplied
Ms Richardson was a 'frightened schoolgirl' who was 'saddened' by the birth of her stillborn baby. Photo / Supplied


Both sides of the case focused on Ms Richardson's family life. But while the prosecution claimed the family was "obsessed" with external appearances and wanted to prevent a potential interruption of their lives, the defence showed the pressures Ms Richardson was under and the impact it had on her health and wellbeing.

Ms Richardson's defence focused on her mother Kim Richardson, who was obsessed with weight and appearance that had contributed to an eating disorder that prevented Brooke from realising she was pregnant and could have contributed to the alleged stillbirth.

Her 18-year-old brother Jackson Richardson testified to her eating disorder, telling the court Brooke began watching her eating when she was in eighth grade.

"I heard her on a constant basis get sick, every night or so," he said. "It wasn't unusual for me to hear her get sick. I knew it was part of her eating disorder because I knew she had it. I hated to hear it, but I never wanted her to talk about it and make her feel bad about it. I just wanted her to be happy."

Chris Curry, an English teacher at Ms Richardson's high school, also testified that she once wrote an essay on her eating disorders in class, People reported.


Psychologist Dr Stuart Bassman testified that Ms Richardson had a personality disorder that predisposed her to submit to people in authority. He also said Ms Richardson told him she was sexually abused when she was a girl.

Professor Alan Hirsch, an expert on criminal interrogations and false confessions, said officers had used "very aggressive" techniques to manipulate Ms Richardson in her July 20 interrogation. Lt John Faine's repeated attempts to convince Ms Richardson she would not be punished if she confessed could have propelled her into a false admission, he argued.

During this interview, Ms Richardson broke down as she admitted she "never meant to hurt her".

Brooke Skylar Richardson has been cleared of murdering her baby after she was born in secret in May 2017. Photo / AP
Brooke Skylar Richardson has been cleared of murdering her baby after she was born in secret in May 2017. Photo / AP


Prosecutors presented texts that Ms Richardson allegedly sent her mother, just hours after the baby died.

They appear to show Ms Richardson excited about regaining her figure, though her mum was unaware this was because she had given birth.

Ten days after giving birth, she texted her mum and told her she had lost 20 pounds (9kg). Jurors were also shown a selfie she took in the gym just hours after giving birth, showing her stomach.

Ms Richardson also texted her boyfriend just hours after giving birth to Annabelle, saying: "I'll tell you about it later but last night was like the worst ever and I didn't go to sleep till 5.30 but I feel sooooo much better this morning I'm happy."


Ms Richardson's lawyers repeatedly admitted she buried the child's remains in her parents' backyard — but they said she only did so after the baby was stillborn and she didn't know what to do with the remains.

The teen only confirmed she was pregnant on April 26 when she saw a doctor and didn't attend any of her pre-natal care appointments or return calls from the doctor because she was scared.

"I didn't really want to have my baby," she told police. "I really don't know what I planned to do."

She also told police she looked into an abortion, but it was too late to have one.

Ms Richardson — who has been under house arrest since being charged — is still to be sentenced for the guilty count of abuse of a corpse. She broke down in court when she was acquitted.

Response to news of Ms Richardson's acquittal has been huge, with many taking to Twitter to express their shock at the result following the high-profile case.