Smithfield Herald

Smithfield vigil remembers tortured child Teghan Skiba

Purple ribbons were wrapped around the trees surrounding the Johnston County courthouse and light poles down Market Street in Smithfield. Purple was 4-year-old Teghan Skiba’s favorite color.
Purple ribbons were wrapped around the trees surrounding the Johnston County courthouse and light poles down Market Street in Smithfield. Purple was 4-year-old Teghan Skiba’s favorite color.

The attorneys, investigators and jurors who helped convict the man who killed 4-year-old Teghan Skiba burned candles Wednesday in memory of the girl who had black hair and loved the color purple.

The vigil, which honored all victims and survivors of sexual violence, came nearly four years after Jonathan Richardson tortured Teghan to death in a shed behind his grandparents’ Johnston County home. Richardson, now 25, was the boyfriend of Teghan’s mother, Helen Reyes, who had left the girl in his care while she went to New Mexico for military training in July 2010.

For nearly 10 days, Richardson physically and sexually abused Teghan, eventually taking her battered body to the hospital on July 16, 2010, claiming she fell off a bed. But authorities didn’t believe his story and charged him with child abuse, then murder, kidnapping and sexual assault when Teghan died three days later.

A jury on March 25 convicted Richardson on all charges and sentenced him to death on April 3. Several of the jurors stood in silence at the vigil outside the Johnston County courthouse, which drew about 25 people.

Johnston County District Attorney Susan Doyle said that ending acts of sexual violence starts with the community, which must speak up when something is wrong. She said so many people associated with Teghan’s case are left asking, “What if?”

“It’s unfortunately too late for Teghan, but don’t wait until it’s too late for another victim,” Doyle said.

In addition to broken bones, whip marks and a head injury that ultimately killed her, Teghan had more than 60 bite marks across her body, which investigators say were signs of severe sexual abuse.

Prosecutors argued that Richardson enjoyed torturing the girl. And while defense attorneys claimed he suffered from an undiagnosed mental disorder, jurors met for a little more than an hour before returning a guilty verdict.

“Our goal is to not only bring justice for Teghan but to bring justice for the next victim by preventing it from happening,” said Charlotte Fournier, a former crime scene investigator with the Johnston County Sheriff’s Office who worked on Teghan’s case.

Harbor Inc., a Smithfield-based shelter for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence, hosted the vigil as part of a month-long Sexual Violence Awareness Month series. Since 1984, the nonprofit has used grant money and donations to provide assistance to women and children in need.

Wilma Hampton, Harbor’s sexual assault advocate, said the shelter provided assistance to 23 victims of sexual abuse during the first quarter of this year, including 16 victims ages 10 to 18.

“We see it day in and day out, and in Teghan’s case, it was with a 4-year-old child,” Hampton said.

Across the state, North Carolina rape crisis centers served more than 13,000 people from April 2011 to March 2012, including about 4,000 children, according to the latest data released by the N.C. Council for Women. In addition, crisis center staff answered 23,000 hotline calls during the same period, the council says.

Mother awaiting trial

Reyes, Teghan’s mother, is facing negligence charges for leaving her daughter with Richardson. She does not have a court date.

Teghan’s paternal grandparents, Sarah and Gerald Skiba of Youngsville, were not able to attend the vigil because of bad weather in their area. In a phone interview, Sarah Skiba said the family is looking for closure.

“We know the mother is going to have to go to court too,” she said. “And again, whenever that happens, it will bring up everything all over again. That hurts a lot.”

Sarah Skiba said she and her husband spent most weekends with Teghan, who loved to follow around her grandfather as he gardened and worked in the yard.

“We were always into doing things,” she said. “We never kept her bored, and she was doing things from the time she woke up in the morning until the time she went to bed at night.”