Jury finds Jonathan Richardson guilty of murdering girlfriend’s 4-year-old daughter

pseligson@newsobserver.comMarch 28, 2014 

— After a four-week trial, jurors needed a little more than an hour to decide that Jonathan Douglas Richardson was guilty of kidnapping, sexually and physically abusing and murdering 4-year-old Teghan Skiba.

Jurors began deliberating late Tuesday morning. Shortly after noon, they had made their decision: guilty of first-degree murder, first-degree kidnapping, sexual offense with a child and felony child abuse inflicting serious bodily injury.

Richardson showed no emotion as the verdicts were read in succession.

Closing arguments began and finished on Monday after four weeks of testimony. Both prosecutors and defense attorneys at his murder trial agreed that Richardson severely abused Teghan for 10 days, eventually inflicting a head injury that killed her.

But in Monday’s closing arguments, they differed over the intent of that abuse and whether Richardson understood what he was doing.

The jury decided that Richardson did intend to kill Teghan. The sentencing phase of the trial will continue this week as jurors weigh whether to give Richardson the death penalty.

Richardson was the boyfriend of Teghan’s mother, Helen Roxana Reyes, who left Teghan in his care when she went to New Mexico for military training in July 2010. For 10 days, the two lived in a shed behind his grandparents’ home in Johnston County, where at one point he shook Teghan so hard that her head hit an unknown surface and caused a brain injury that eventually killed her.

Prosecutor Paul Jackson said Richardson took pleasure in torturing Teghan, who had more than 60 bite marks across her body, signs of severe sexual abuse and whip marks from an extension cord that left copper embedded in her skin. By the time she reached a critical care unit in Chapel Hill, her brain had swollen, and she had lost more than half of her blood.

During his closing argument, Jackson said a dark place exists in the world and walked toward and pointed at Richardson. The details of the case are something most people don’t want to think about, he said, but the jury has a responsibility to consider Teghan’s suffering and torment.

“It has demanded that we all look into the abyss,” Jackson said.

Richardson’s attorneys presented a different story of a man with uncontrollable anger, suffering from undiagnosed mental problems and unequipped to take care of a young child. Richardson was not aware that his actions were bad, they said, because of the abuse he suffered at the hands of his father.

Defense attorney Jonathan Broun said Richardson had uncontrollable anger. This anger, coupled with other mental issues, caused Richardson to lose his patience and abuse Teghan. “Everything about this case is so incredibly tragic,” Broun said.

Richardson’s attorneys argued that he did not commit first-degree murder because he didn’t mean to kill Teghan when he shook her. They noted that Richardson went out to buy bandages for Teghan and eventually took her to the hospital, showing that he was trying to help her.

They did not dispute the physical abuse but said Richardson didn’t intend that abuse as sexual.

Richardson’s attorneys also disputed the kidnapping charge, noting that Reyes gave consent for Richardson to care for Teghan. They said Reyes was aware of Richardson’s anger because of how he had dealt with Teghan before. Reyes has been charged with child abuse and will be tried separately.

Prosecutors countered that Richardson was guilty of kidnapping because Reyes never consented to what happened to her daughter and because Richardson used a lock and duct tape to restrain Teghan. They said Teghan suffered a continuous 10-day period of torture that ended only when she became unconscious after hitting her head.

Jackson said Richardson bought medical supplies only out of self-interest. When Richardson shook Teghan, he was angry that she was picking her scabs; he just wanted Teghan to heal before her mother returned, Jackson said.

As Jackson explained the sexual abuse, he showed pictures of the autopsy. Richardson looked away from the pictures, one of his only reactions during the full day of closing arguments.

Prosecutor Greg Butler spoke last, often looking at Richardson and asking, in disbelief, “Negligent? Accidental? Unintentional?” At one point, Butler took an extension cord, stripped off part of the plastic and hit it hard against a wall to show the force Richardson must have used.

Butler also held up a stuffed doll and shook it as hard as he said Richardson must have shaken Teghan. “He didn’t shake her,” Butler said. “He slammed her.”

Earlier in the trial, prosecutors showed the jury a short video from Richardson’s phone that showed Richardson yelling at Teghan to repeat back certain phrases. Jackson showed a still from the video during the closing arguments, with Teghan’s back to the viewer. She was holding up her arms even though they had been fractured.

Butler said the video is the last time anyone other than Richardson heard Teghan speaking.

Seligson: 919-836-5768

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