Father found guilty in child scalding death case

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Father found guilty in child scalding death case

A Franklin man was found guilty on Friday of involuntary manslaughter in connection with his son’s scalding death in March 2016.

Robert Ritchie, 32, was taken into custody after the jury found him guilty of involuntary manslaughter and child endangering after two hours of deliberations.

Judge Robert Peeler ordered a pre-sentence investigation before deciding Ritchie’s punishment.

“This is just another part of this tragedy,” Peeler said as he revoked bond for Ritchie, who had been free on his own recognizance.

Ritchie now faces 11 years in prison.

“This is a very diffcult case,” Peeler said before releasing the jury and discouraging them from talking with media.

Peeler and the lawyers then adjourned to his chambers to discuss the case with the jury.

During the third trial, it was established inaction by Ritchie, 32, resulted in his son, Austin Cooper, 4, being left in a crib for 15 hours after the boy was severely burned by his stepmother, Anna Ritchie.

A mistrial was declared last December when the jury was hung and again in March when Ritchie became ill in court as autopsy photos of the 4-year-old were shown.

Earlier this week, Warren County Common Pleas Judge Robert Peeler denied a motion for another mistrial.

On Friday, Assistant Warren County Prosecutor Steven Knippen said Robert Ritchie was guilty of involuntary manslaughter due to his reckless behavior after learning his son had been badly burned by his wife.

“Not once does he poke his head into that room,” Knippen said in his final argument. “This is about a father doing the most basic things for his son.”

Ritchie’s lawyer, Frank Schiavone III, told the jury his client was a victim, along with his son.

“This is a case of torture. I cannot say that enough,” he said.

“Robert Ritchie was an abused man,” Schiavone added. “Given all the circumstances, what’s reasonable? What was reasonable was exactly what he did.”

But Knippen countered that the trial was not about Anna Ritchie who is serving an 18-year sentence for murder, involuntary manslaughter, child endangering and felonious assault.

“This trial is about Robert Ritchie,” Knippen said. “He didn’t do a thing.”

After the verdict, the boy’s biological mother hugged prosecutors, but declined to be interviewed or identified. Ritchie’s mother cried on the shoulder of one of a large group of supporters who sat behind him on Friday.

Afterward, County Prosecutor David Fornshell said his office learned from the first trial to emphasize the recklessness demonstrated by Ritchie’s inattention to his son, despite texts and other knowledge he had of the injuries.

In addition, Fornshell said the defense helped the prosecution by calling Anna Ritchie to testify. Under cross-examination, Fornshell said she revealed the boy was alive when Robert Ritchie returned home.

This also helped prosecutors point out inconsistencies with Robert Ritchie’s statements as the case evolved from the arrest through the three trials, Fornshell said.

Schiavone declined to comment.

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