Woman testifies against former boyfriend accused of killing her daughter
Posted March 13, 2014
Smithfield, N.C. — The mother of a 4-year-old Johnston County girl who died from severe abuse in 2010 broke her silence Thursday, testifying in the trial against her former boyfriend, who is accused of killing the girl.
Helen Reyes breathed heavily and dabbed her eyes as she took the stand, then broke down in tears when prosecutor Greg Butler asked why she was in court.
“I am here for Teghan, for my baby, for justice,” she said.
Prosecutors say Reyes went to New Mexico for Army Reserve training in July 2010 and left her daughter, Teghan Skiba, in the care of Jonathan Douglas Richardson.
They contend Richardson physically and sexually abused the child for 10 days inside a small shed behind his grandparents' home before taking her to a local hospital for a fatal head injury and more than five dozen bite marks on her body.
Richardson, 25, is charged with first-degree murder, felony child abuse, kidnapping and sexual offense.
Reyes is charged with felony negligent child abuse. She said Thursday she was not testifying as part of a plea deal.
She described her relationship with Teghan’s father, Jerry Skiba, whom she met at an Applebee's in 2005. After Teghan was born, Reyes said, Jerry Skiba became violent, and the two split.
She said she was single until she met Richardson.
"I cared about him," Reyes said. "I felt I was in love with him, or falling in love with him."
She said Richardson was a father figure to Teghan and taught the girl how to hook minnows for fishing.
At some point, Reyes had a "blowout" with her mother. She took Teghan and moved in with Richardson in the shed behind his grandparents' house.
Reyes said she once left Teghan with Richardson, went to Walmart and returned to find the girl with a cut on her head. Richardson said she accidentally hit the corner of a stationary bicycle.
Another time, Teghan’s eye was hurt during a trip to the beach.
“He told me there was a wave that came and ended up hitting her eye,” said Reyes, who now works in a medical office and has an 8-month-old girl.
Reyes also testified that she returned home once to find welts on Teghan.
“I went inside and grabbed her and held her and told her that I loved her,” Reyes said, crying. “He told me that he had whipped her for throwing up on his chair…he had whipped her with a power cord.”
She said she was outraged and told Richardson never to touch Teghan again.
The couple’s tumultuous relationship continued, and Richardson tried to call it off several months before Teghan’s death. In court, Reyes read aloud part of a love letter she had written to Richardson at the time: “If I tell you I love you too much, then tell me and I’ll tone it down. You have shown me what it means to be truly loved and treated well.”
Richardson showed no emotion as Reyes read the letter. When Butler, the prosecutor, asked Reyes why she stayed, she said, “He was stern with her at times, but he showed that he loved and cared for her.”
Reyes said she left Teghan with Richardson during her training because he volunteered to take care of the child, saying that his grandmother would help while he was at work.
“I trusted him, and I trusted his word,” Reyes said. “(Teghan) said she really liked him and that she wanted him to be her dad.”
For the first time in the nearly three-week trial, Richardson reacted. His eyes reddened and he wiped them.
Defense attorneys have said that Richardson – damaged by years of abuse, uncontrolled anger and untreated mental problems – never sexually abused Teghan and that her death was an "unbelievable tragedy" that Richardson never meant to happen.
He loved Reyes and Teghan and wanted the three of them to be the perfect family, Richardson's attorneys say, but he had no idea how to care for a little girl.
Before Reyes took the stand Thursday, the judge questioned jurors about their ability to remain impartial following an incident that happened Wednesday while the group dined at Golden Corral.
At least one of the jurors reported to a deputy that they encountered a woman at the restaurant who yelled out that Richardson was guilty and they needed to convict him.
Superior Court Judge Tom Lock asked each of the six jurors who heard the comment whether it would affect his or her ability to be fair and impartial. Each responded that it would not, and the trial resumed.