Local News

Defense psychologist: Child's convicted killer 'quite disturbed'

Posted March 31, 2014 6:45 p.m. EDT
Updated March 31, 2014 8:17 p.m. EDT

— Jonathan Richardson's upbringing by his abusive father and the relationship he had with his mother are keys to trying to understand why he killed his former girlfriend's daughter, a forensic psychologist testified Monday – the third day of a hearing to determine if the 25-year-old should face the death penalty for the crime.

After an hour of deliberations last week, a jury of seven women and five men found Richardson guilty of several charges, including first-degree murder and first-degree sexual offense of a child, in 4-year-old Teghan Skiba's July 19, 2010, death.

Johnston County prosecutors say Richardson tormented, tortured and terrorized the girl for 10 days, but defense attorneys contend that Teghan's death was unintentional and was the result of uncontrolled anger, undiagnosed mental problems and years of emotional and physical abuse that Richardson himself suffered.

"He's quite a disturbed individual," forensic psychologist Matthew Mendel said. "There's a lot of mystery involved with Jonathan Richardson."

Mendel met with Richardson on four occasions during which he found out that he was raised by a single father who was shot in the head when Richardson was 1 year old.

The shooting left Douglas Richardson mentally scarred an incapable of providing the care his son needed, defense attorneys have said.

Mendel said the father and son were close – describing their relationship as having a "buddy-buddy dynamic" – but that there was "considerable physical abuse." The younger Richardson, he said, described his father as being "utterly out of control" and "filled with rage" when spanking him.

"The discipline of Jonathan was left up to the father," Mendel said. "Doug basically took care of the discipline."

Mendel described Jonathan Richardson's relationship with his mother as lacking compassion and emotion – "a cold relationship."

Finding out about the family history, however, was problematic because the family was "very closed, very secretive."

"Frankly, I had difficulty finding out information. (There was) a lot of secrecy, a lot of cloudiness about the case," he said. "I believe the family disturbance is very central and critical to understanding Jonathan Richardson."

As a young child, Richardson was considered academically gifted in school and showed "great promise and great potential," Mendel said. By fifth grade, however, his academic performance drastically declined.

"I think it's enormously significant," Mendel said. "I don't know the reason for it. If I see someone with that dramatic a drop, I'm going to think there's some reason for it."

In high school, Richardson drank large amounts of alcohol, Mendel added, with one friend reporting that he was known to drink a half gallon of whiskey in one sitting.

"You need to have a considerable tolerance of alcohol," Mendel said, saying Richardson was likely self-medicating himself for undiagnosed depression.

As for his ultimate diagnosis, Mendel said he still hasn't been able to pinpoint exactly what caused Richardson's troubles.

"There are signs all over the place. There are certain things that are clearly wrong," he said. "What feels so different and unique in this case so far passed the conclusion that I have reached."