Trial opens for man accused of torturing, killing 4-year-old girl in Smithfield

rstradling@newsobserver.comFebruary 24, 2014 

— Jonathan Douglas Richardson’s lawyer told a jury Monday that Richardson shook his girlfriend’s 4-year-old daughter and hit her head against a wall, delivering the blow that killed her in July 2010.

But Richardson did not mean to kill Teghan Skiba and should not be convicted of first-degree murder, attorney Jonathan Broun told jurors on the opening day of Richardson’s trial. His actions, Broun said, were the result of his mental illness, his inexperience taking care of a child and his uncontrolled anger, built up from years of abuse and neglect by his parents.

“Jonathan never intended to kill Teghan,” Broun said. “But out of anger, he caused the injury that killed her.”

Richardson could face the death penalty if convicted. He took Teghan to the hospital in Smithfield on July 16, 2010, and told medical workers that she had fallen out of bed, police said at the time. Her mother, Helen Roxana Reyes, had left 10 days earlier for Army Reserves training in New Mexico.

Prosecutors say that in those 10 days, Richardson tortured Teghan in a shed behind the Johnston County home of his grandparents, where the couple and Teghan had been living. Prosecutor Paul Jackson told jurors that when it was over, Teghan had been sexually assaulted, bitten more than 63 times and flayed with a split extension cord that left little bits of copper embedded in her body.

Richardson’s trial, Jackson said, is “about the 10 days that he inflicted grievous pain and suffering on this 4-year-old child through deliberate, repeated acts of sadistic abuse.”

Broun described what happened to Teghan as “beyond horrific,” but said Richardson did not derive any sadistic pleasure from it and did not sexually abuse Teghan. He said Richardson, who was 21 at the time, loved Reyes and her daughter and wanted the three of them to be a family.

“Jonathan loved Teghan,” Broun told jurors. “But he was as unequipped to take care of a 4-year-old as a 21-year-old man can be.”

Richardson’s upbringing taught him that physical abuse was what a parent did, Broun said. He said Richardson’s mother hired a hit man to kill his father, who survived a bullet wound to the head but who neglected and physically abused his son. Broun told jurors they would hear about Richardson’s life as a child and how that affected his behavior when he tried to take care of Teghan.

Broun also noted that Reyes could have had her parents watch Teghan when she left for New Mexico for training, instead of Richardson. Reyes was later charged with child abuse after investigators determined that she saw Richardson abuse her daughter before leaving her in his care.

Jackson warned jurors that they would see a lot of evidence of the abuse Teghan endured, and that it would be hard to take. He said prosecutors would end their case by presenting a video that was found in a camera inside the shed.

“You’ll hear the defendant’s voice, and you’ll hear her voice, and you’ll see her,” Jackson said. “And you’re only going to get just a sliver, just the smallest portion, 30 seconds of the torment, the torture and the absolute terror that this child went through.”

After a long pause, Jackson concluded: “None of us will be the same.”

Broun acknowledged the video in his opening statement, too, but said it indicated that Richardson had no idea that what he was doing was wrong.

“The evidence will show that when Jonathan left the shed to take Teghan to the hospital, he made no effort to cover up or hide what he had done to Teghan,” he said.

Stradling: 919-829-4739

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