Investigator weeps testifying about tortured child's living conditions
Posted February 26, 2014
Updated February 27, 2014
Smithfield, N.C. — A former crime scene investigator wept Wednesday as she showed a Johnston County jury photos of the tiny, "cluttered and dirty" shed where prosecutors say a man tortured his girlfriend's young daughter for 10 days before she slipped into a coma and died in 2010.
The breakdown prompted the judge presiding over Jonathan Douglas Richardson's capital murder trial to excuse jurors from the courtroom so the investigator, Charlotte Fournier, could regain her composure.
The state says Richardson, 25, locked 4-year-old Teghan Skiba in the shed behind his grandparents' Smithfield home and physically and sexually abused her while her mother, Helen Reyes, attended Army Reserve training in New Mexico.
Teghan died July 19, 2010, three days after Richardson took her to a local emergency room, claiming she hit her head while jumping on a bed. An autopsy found the child died from blunt force head injuries.
All day Wednesday, Fournier testified to finding the 15x13 shed on the "neatly manicured" property of Richardson's grandparents filled with alcohol containers, partially eaten food, scattered clothing, urine and feces.
"My first impression was that somebody was living in there," she said. "Just the odor – somebody had been defecating in there. There was stuff thrown on top of stuff, stuff all over the floor. It was very cluttered."
Investigators took a rifle, a shotgun and a knife from the shed when they searched it on July 16, 2010, the same day Richardson took Teghan to the emergency room.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys both say Richardson, who had been dating Reyes for about six months, and Teghan all lived in the shed.
On the day he dropped Reyes off at the airport for her military training, the state says he stopped at a home improvement store and purchased a hasp that he used to secure the shed so that no one could get in.
Defense attorneys acknowledge that Richardson physically abused Teghan but say he never sexually abused her and did not intend to kill her.
Her death, they say, was partially the result of Richardson's undiagnosed mental problems, his own experiences of being abused as a child and approval from Reyes that physical abuse was OK.
The defense has also said that Reyes had other childcare options but chose to leave her daughter with Richardson. He didn't have the parenting skills or experience to care for the child.