A Johnston County jury has sentenced Jonathan Douglas Richardson to death for kidnapping, sexually and physically abusing and ultimately killing 4-year-old Teghan Skiba.
The same jury found Richardson guilty of murder on March 25. Prosecutors and Richardson’s attorneys presented their arguments this week on whether he deserved the death penalty or should serve life in prison without parole for Teghan’s murder.
“Life in prison without parole is a slap on the wrist in this case,” Johnston County Assistant District Attorney Greg Butler said in his closing arguments Thursday. “Justice demands that he receive no better fate than he gave Teghan.”
Teghan’s mother, Helen Roxana Reyes, was romantically involved with Richardson and left the 4-year-old in his care while she went to New Mexico for military training in July 2010.
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For 10 days, Richardson and Teghan lived in an outbuilding behind his grandparents’ home in Johnston County, where investigators said he shook Teghan violently and hit her head against something, causing brain damage that would eventually kill her.
Prosecutors argued that Richardson took pleasure in torturing Teghan, who had more than 60 bite marks across her body, signs of severe sexual abuse, broken arms from being restrained and whip marks from an extension cord that left copper threads 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 closing arguments, Butler argued that Richardson sentenced himself to death by torturing the child.
“Teghan did not deserve to suffer, and she certainly did not deserve to die,” he said.
Richardson’s defense attorney, however, painted a picture of a man who was abused as a child and had an undiagnosed mental disorder.
“Today, we are not asking for forgiveness or leniency of Jonathan,” said defense attorney Jonathan Broun. “Forgiveness would mean no punishment, and that’s already been guaranteed that Jonathan is going to be punished. Leniency would mean punishment that is not harsh and severe, and no matter what you decide today, Jonathan is going to be punished harshly and severely.”
Instead, Broun asked for mercy. He told jurors that Richardson did not intend to kill Teghan, and he said the accidental nature of the death was a mitigating factor.
The jury deliberated only a few hours before sentencing Richardson to death.
Skiba family satisfied
Upon receiving the jury’s decision, Teghan’s paternal grandparents, Gerald and Sarah Skiba, said they were satisfied with the sentence.
“They got the best they could do,” Gerald Skiba said, wearing a purple shirt, Teghan’s favorite color. “He’s already lived three and a half years more than my little granddaughter, and now they’re going to give him another seven or eight years,” he said, referring to how long the automatic appeals process could take before Richardson could be put to death.
“It’s like his life is more important than hers,” Skiba said. The two said they would not have been satisfied with Richardson receiving life in prison without parole, because of the suffering he put Teghan through.
Gerald Skiba said listening to the gruesome details of her suffering was hard. “She just wanted people to love her, and she just showed her love so freely and then somebody like that just comes in and just tortures her, you know, hurts her, and that’s – I don’t know,” Skiba said. “It’s hard to put into words.”
Johnston County District Attorney Susan Doyle said she, too, was happy with the verdict and that the case was hard for everyone involved.
“It was very difficult,” she said. “It was the most difficult case I have ever done in my career.”
Doyle later added: “I thank the jury for their hard work in this case. It was very difficult for all of those involved, and we are grateful that the jury agreed that the only appropriate punishment for this defendant was a sentence of death.”