'Sadistic desires' led to 4-year-old's murder, state says
Posted March 24, 2014
Updated March 25, 2014
Smithfield, N.C. — Jonathan Douglas Richardson satisfied over and over his "sadistic desires" on 4-year-old Teghan Skiba for the 10 days in 2010 that he kept her confined to a small shed that doubled as his torture chamber, prosecutors told jurors Monday during closing arguments in the 25-year-old's first-degree murder trial.
"That's the ugly truth," Johnston County Assistant District Attorney Paul Jackson said in a heated and emotional presentation. "Before she died, she went through the most heinous, cruel suffering that anyone could imagine. You still can't wrap your mind around it."
The jury of seven women and five men spent four weeks listening to testimony that, at times, brought some of them to tears, upset court employees and caused trained, professional witnesses, including a sheriff's deputy for 18 years, to break down on the stand.
The result, Jackson said: "None of us are the same."
"Ten days of continuous torment, torture and terror, and you don't want to think about it, but you have to," Jackson said. "There will come a time when you can – or at least try – but now is not the time, because we still have a responsibility, and we still have a duty."
After daylong closings, Superior Court Judge Thomas Lock sent jurors home. They will return to court Tuesday to begin their deliberations on the murder charge as well as felony child abuse, kidnapping and sexual abuse charges.
Potentially facing the death penalty, Richardson is accused of abusing Teghan in the 15-by-13-foot shed behind the Smithfield home of his grandparents while her mother – his girlfriend at the time – Helen Reyes, was out of the state for Army Reserve training.
He took the girl to a local hospital on July 16, 2010, with more than 60 bite marks covering her body, as well as bruises, abrasions and marks – the results of "atrocious cruel acts that came from a dark place," according to Jackson – that doctors testified were too many to count.
The child died three days later from blunt force trauma to the head – a fatal injury that defense attorneys argued was unintentional.
"Everything about this case is so incredibly tragic," said defense attorney Jonathan Broun.
But he urged jurors to put aside their "natural and understandable instincts about what happened" and to apply the law to the facts in the case.
When they do, he added, they will see that the child's death was the result of a combination of Richardson's inexperience with children, his own experiences of being abused as a child, undiagnosed mental disorders and his inability to control his anger.
"You all have been given a duty and responsibility to decide this case, to determine exactly what happened," Broun said. "There are hard questions that have to be answered, facts that have to be analyzed and law that has to be applied to this case."
Richardson loved Teghan and never intended to kill her, his defense attorneys argued, and he never sexually abused her.
The head injury, they said, was the result of a frustrated Richardson shaking the girl with "incredible force" that caused her to hit her head on a door.
The evidence, they added, does not meet the requirements for a first-degree murder conviction.
"As bad as it was – and I'm not telling you that it wasn't, it was awful – what actually ended her life was a blow to the head," defense attorney Mike Klinkosum said. "One quick action, one quick force that ended her life."
But Jackson quipped at the contention, saying nothing minimized Richardson's culpability for the crimes.
"It's easy to forget what this is about when you listen to them talk about what really is no defense," he said.
"The only way you can find this defendant not guilty is through fantastic leaps of the imagination," he added. "The only way you can find him not guilty is if you check your common sense at the door."