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Richardson sentenced to death for Teghan Skiba's murder

A jury deliberated for less than three hours Thursday before recommending Jonathan Richardson be sentenced to death for the July 19, 2010, murder of 4-year-old Teghan Skiba.

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SMITHFIELD, N.C. — Jonathan Richardson sentenced himself to death nearly four years ago when he tormented, tortured and terrorized his ex-girlfriend's 4-year-old daughter for 10 days before "finishing her off with such a vicious attack from which she would never recover," a Johnston County prosecutor said Thursday to jurors tasked with the life-or-death decision regarding the Smithfield man's destiny for Teghan Skiba's murder.

The seven women and five men agreed, and shortly after 8 p.m. – with less than three hours of deliberation – they recommended that the 25-year-old be put to death.

Richardson had no response and was quickly led out of the courtroom in handcuffs, leaving behind his mother, grandmother and others in tears.

"The way I see it, he got the verdict today, he should be dead tomorrow," Teghan's paternal grandfather, Gerald Skiba, said shortly thereafter. "He tortured my little granddaughter and she's never coming back again."

Richardson's attorneys and his family declined to comment.

"The defendant decided her fate. On July 16, 2010, he ultimately became her sole judge, jury and executioner," Assistant District Attorney Greg Butler said during closing arguments of the sentencing phase of Richardson's capital murder trial. "Life in prison, I contend to you, is a slap on the wrist. Justice demands that he receive no better fate than he gave Teghan."

The jury took only an hour last week to convict Richardson of first-degree murder, first-degree kidnapping, first-degree sexual offense of a child and felony child abuse in Teghan's death. She died from a fatal head wound three days after he took her to a Johnston County hospital, claiming she fell off a bed.

But the state said the 144 wounds, including 66 bite marks, on the girl's face and 40-pound body were not the result of a fall but the work of an "extremely wicked," "shockingly evil" and unremorseful man who "perverted the laws of nature" and "desecrated her body" when he sexually abused Teghan and killed her.

"There's a darkness in him," Assistant District Attorney Paul Jackson said. "I want you to remember something – that when good people do nothing, darkness prevails. I know you won't let it prevail in this case."

Defense attorneys, who hoped to keep Richardson from becoming the 153rd person on North Carolina's death row, pleaded with the jury to show mercy and to recommend to Superior Court Judge Thomas Lock that his life be spared.

"We're not asking you to forgive Mr. Richardson for what he did. Life in prison without parole is not forgiveness. It is its own abyss," defense attorney Mike Klinkosum said. "A life condemned to prison for someone convicted of a sexual assault and torturous murder of a 4-year-old girl is a special kind of abyss. It's a special kind of hell."

During the lengthy trial – jury selection began in January – the defense maintained that Richardson never meant to kill Teghan, that he loved her and considered her to be his daughter. He was a victim of inappropriate discipline as a child, couldn't control his anger and suffered from undiagnosed mental disorders – all factors that contributed to the child's death.

Butler disagreed, describing the injuries and the punishment that he said the girl must have endured – including being whipped numerous times with a frayed electrical cord, having a nail pried off her finger, having her arms broken and suffering severe trauma to her genital and anal areas.

"Is he mentally ill or just plain mean? Just plain cruel? Just plain sadistic?" the prosecutor asked.

But Broun said the state neglected to answer the question of why Richardson inflicted the abuse upon Teghan – a question that mental health experts struggled to answer at trial.

"Why did his desire to have the perfect family turn so tragic?" Broun asked. "We know this did not happen in a vacuum. We just can't simply say some people are just mean and not look for the real answers. What happened to Teghan is beyond horrible, beyond tragic and is completely senseless. There obviously are not the crimes of a healthy person."

Jurors – bused in every day from neighboring Harnett County – began deliberating just before 4:30 p.m. Thursday and had the option to consider 46 mitigating factors – circumstances about a crime that could justify a lesser sentence.

Among them: Richardson's upbringing by a father who the defense said was abusive and a mentally ill mother who they claimed hired a hit-man to kill him. Richardson was a year-old at the time, the defense said, but the event's impact was long-lasting and far-reaching, with Richardson suffering at his angry father's hands as a result.

Butler, the assistant district attorney, said Richardson has blamed everyone in his life – including Teghan – but himself.

"He wants you to feel sad. He wants you to be concerned for him and his self-described horrible life," Butler argued. "He wants you to have sympathy for him and forget this terrible, senseless, needless, vicious crime that he committed against a little 4-year-old girl, Teghan Skiba. All this is just to get your attention taken away from what he did, how he did it and who he did it to and why."

Some of the jurors cried as Butler showed a 37-second video of Teghan facing a wall with her bruised and broken arms stretched out to her side as she repeatedly cried out, "When I have to pee, I promise I will tell someone."

Richardson then yelled in the video – taken nine days before her death – for the child to "speak up."

"It was amazing she was able to do just that after the torture she had already been through," Johnston County District Attorney Susan Doyle told jurors. "She was a tough little girl. But as tough as Teghan Skiba was, she was no match for that defendant. She was no match for his persistent and his calculated and his carefully planned acts of torture."

Thursday was not the first time tears were shed tears during the trial. Graphic testimony brought tears to jurors, family members and court employees alike, and experienced medical and law enforcement officers, including a 18-year sheriff's deputy, broke down on the stand.

Prosecutors' voices quivered as they argued their case Thursday. The emotion in their voices was evident.

Teghan spent the last days of her life bleeding in a shed behind the home of Richardson's grandparents, Doyle said.

The girl's mother, Helen Reyes – charged with negligent child abuse in the case and absent from court Thursday night – was in New Mexico for Army Reserve training and left Richardson to care for her daughter.

Teghan lost 70 percent of her blood from her wounds.

"As she began her slow torturous death, she was in this dark, dirty, lonely place. She was in a shed all alone and she had no one – no one – with her," Doyle said. "She had no one to help her. She had no one to care for her, and she had no one to comfort her. She had no one but him.

"Your sentence will finally bring justice for Teghan," Doyle continued. "And your sentence will allow her family to begin to put away some of this pain and to once again remember the sweet little girl who in happier times, loved to say 'It's a sunny day, let's play.'"


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