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North Carolina’s Supreme Court upholds death sentence for the convicted murderer of a 4-year-old

RALEIGH, N.C. – The North Carolina Supreme Court upheld on Friday the first-degree murder conviction and death sentence of a man found by a jury to have abused and tortured his then-girlfriend's 4-year-old daughter.

In a 6-1 ruling, the state's highest court kept in place the conviction of and punishment for Jonathan Douglas Richardson in the July 2010 death of Teghan Skiba.

Prosecutors during his 2014 trial said that Richardson killed the girl while she was in his care for 10 days when the girl's mother went to New Mexico for Army Reserve training.

Investigators accused Richardson, who was living in an outbuilding behind his grandparents' home in Johnston County at the time of the death, of shaking the girl violently and hitting her head against something. An autopsy determined the cause of her death was blunt force trauma to the head.

The girl's body contained numerous “lacerations, puncture wounds, burns, bite marks and bruising” and evidence of sexual abuse, according to the prevailing opinion written by Associate Justice Michael Morgan. The jury also found Richardson guilty on kidnapping, sexual offense with a child and child abuse counts.

“We conclude that defendant received a fair trial and capital sentencing proceeding free of prejudicial error and that the death sentence recommended by the jury and imposed by the trial court is not excessive or disproportionate,” Morgan wrote in his opinion, which covered more than 180 pages.

Associate Justice Anita Earls wrote a dissenting opinion, saying while she affirmed the conviction, a new sentencing hearing was needed because “the trial court committed both structural error and allowed the State to present unfairly prejudicial evidence.”

Richardson, now 34, is among more than 130 people on North Carolina's death row. The state last carried out an execution in 2006.