Was Brooke Skylar Richardson's bond set too low? Retired judge thinks so

Posted at 3:52 PM, Aug 08, 2017
and last updated 2017-08-08 18:07:50-04

LEBANON, Ohio -- Brooke "Skylar" Richardson entered Judge Donald Oda's courtroom Monday in shackles, handcuffs and a prison jumpsuit -- a stark contrast to the college-bound, volunteering, high school cheerleader that her attorney describes in each court hearing.

The 18-year-old is charged with aggravated murder, voluntary manslaughter, endangering children, tampering with evidence and gross abuse of a corpse. She's accused of causing the death of her newborn baby hours after birth, then burning and burying the corpse in her backyard.

Prosecutor David Fornshell requested Richardson, of Carlisle, be held on a $1 million bond, be placed on house arrest with a GPS tracker, and have no contact with children.

Richardson's attorney, Charles Rittger, argued that a $1 million bond was too high, and that Richardson had no financial means and strong ties to Butler and Warren counties.

"She has no means besides her parents...she was making $8 an hour," Rittger said during arraignment Monday. "She was born and raised in Butler/Warren county, both sets of parents (and grandparents) live in Butler/Warren county."

Rittger also said Richardson and her family surrendered their passports to him ahead of Monday's arraignment.

With that, Oda set Richardson's bond at $50,000.

"The sole purpose of bail is to assure your attendance at trial and to make sure that there are no imminent risks of serious physical harm to the community," Oda said in court Monday. "I do not believe that you pose an imminent threat to the public at large."

Bond is determined by a set of factors, including a suspect's flight risk -- due to financial means and connections abroad and out of town -- and the seriousness of the crime. Richardson's bond amount, compared to other child death cases in the Tri-State, is relatively low.

In Warren County a little over one year ago, Robert and Anna Ritchie were both charged in the death of Robert's 4-year-old son Austin after he was scalded to death.

During arraignment, Robert was given a $250,000 bond. He was charged with involuntary manslaughter and endangering children.

Anna Ritchie was charged with two counts of murder among a 6-charge indictment. She was given a $350,000 bond.

In Hamilton County, Glen Bates and Andrea Bradley -- who were both convicted of aggravated murder in their 2-year-old daughter's death -- were denied bond. Hamilton County Coroner Lakshmi Kode Sammarco said the case was "one of the worst" cases of starvation and torture that she's ever seen.

Retired Hamilton County Judge Norbert Nadel said he thinks Richardson's bond was set too low.

"Let me put it in a diplomatic way: This is highly unusual," Nadel said.

Nadel has 40 years' experience and currently serves as Hamilton County recorder.

On Facebook, users who commented on WCPO's livestream were largely surprised by Richardson's relatively low bond amount.

Despite her age, limited means and connections to Warren and Butler counties, Nadel said he thinks Richardson is still a flight risk.

"The main issue is whether or not they're a flight risk and how serious (the offense) is," Nadel said. "This is a very serious offense, a serious penalty of life imprisonment.

"Yes, there's a flight risk here, certainly," Nadel said. "And people are going to run if they think they're going to jail for the rest of their life."

Neither investigators nor the prosecutor have said how the baby died. Fornshell said investigators have "some idea" how the baby died and who the father is.

After arraignment Monday, Rittger told reporters that Richardson "did not kill her baby...and I will have more to come as we receive the (evidence from prosecutor)."