Prosecutor: Slain 4-year-old endured 10 days of torture
Posted February 24
Updated February 26
Smithfield, N.C. — Johnston County prosecutors say a man on trial and facing a possible death sentence tormented, tortured and terrorized his girlfriend's 4-year-old daughter for 10 days before the child slipped into a coma and died while her mother was out of town three years ago.
Jonathan Douglas Richardson is accused of first-degree murder, felony child abuse, kidnapping and sexual offense with a child in the July 19, 2010, death of Teghan Skiba, who authorities say was confined to and locked in a shed she lived in with the 25-year-old and her mother, Helen Reyes.
"He inflicted grievous pain and suffering upon this 4-year-old child through deliberate, repeated acts of sadistic abuse – not only physical but sexual, not only for the purpose of discipline but for sadistic pleasure," Johnston County Assistant District Attorney Paul Jackson told jurors during opening statements Monday.
Jackson described the child's body as a crime scene with evidence of head trauma, sexual assault and more than 60 bite marks, as well as cuts, bruises and whip marks that were too numerous for emergency workers to document and impossible to describe with words.
"It was beyond anything they had ever seen before," he said.
Richardson, Jackson said, lied about what happened and tried to explain away the injuries, including telling authorities that the child fell off the air mattress she shared with Richardson and Reyes in the shed behind the home of Richardson's grandparents.
Defense attorney Jonathan Broun acknowledged the abuse but said his client never intended to kill Teghan, but didn't have the parenting skills or experience to care for the child while Reyes, attended military training in New Mexico.
"Jonathan loved Teghan, but he was as unequipped to care for a 4-year-old as a 21-year-old man could be," Broun said. "He had no idea how to take care of a little girl, and his actions showed it."
Her death partly was a result of Richardson's own experiences of being abused as a child as well as undiagnosed mental problems.
A single child, Richardson was raised by an angry father who showed his son little or no attention unless he was abusing him.
"When Jonathan was beaten, at least he knew his father cared. His father was paying attention," Broun said. "Sadly, Jonathan was taught that physical abuse is what a parent did. It's how a parent showed he cared, how he showed that he loved."
According to search warrants, Richardson told Johnston County investigators that he had bipolar disorder and that "little things set him off." The documents allege that he whipped Teghan with a cord after she went to the bathroom in the bed."
Broun didn't say what Richardson might have told authorities but did say his client's actions "were cause by anger and mental problems."
"Jonathan's anger got the best of him, and he grabbed her and shook her," Broun said.
Reyes also faces a charge of negligent child abuse in the case.
Investigators said in the warrants that they determined the physical abuse, which included forcing her to consume alcohol, started before she left town.