Jurors in Warren County child scalding death sent home for night

Closing arguments Thursday, Dec. 1 in the case against Robert Ritchie. NICHOLAS GRAHAM/STAFF
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Closing arguments Thursday, Dec. 1 in the case against Robert Ritchie. NICHOLAS GRAHAM/STAFF

The jury in the trial of Robert Ritchie, the Franklin father charged in connection with the scalding death of his 4-year-old son, deliberated for six hours Thursday in Warren County Common Pleas Court before going home for the night.

The jury got the case about 12:15 p.m. Thursday after closing arguments. Deliberations will begin again at 8:30 a.m. Friday.

Robert Ritchie is charged with involuntary manslaughter and felony child endangering for allegedly not seeking medical treatment for his son Austin, who was held in a bathtub of scalding water by his stepmother, Anna Ritchie.

Warren County Assistant Prosecutor Julie Kraft said Robert Ritchie made a conscious decision to do nothing to help his son when he learned of the boy’s injuries.

Because Robert Ritchie did not help, his son he lay in his bed for 15 hours and died alone, she told the jury.

Robert Ritchie was told by Anna Ritchie about the injuries that included peeling, bleeding skin, Kraft said. He checked the water temperature when he got home on March 16, but not his child, Kraft said.

If Robert Ritchie had opened the door, saw the injuries and sought medical treatment, “Austin would be here today,” Kraft said.

Defense attorney Frank Schiavone III delivered his closing arguments.

He called his client “a gentle giant” and said he did not lie to police.

“Hindsight is 20/20 and this case is a perfect example,” Schiavone III said.

If Robert Ritchie had walked into the room, he would have seen Austin sleeping, because Anna Ritchie covered him up, his attorney said.

“Anna Ritchie took Rob’s child from him, now the prosecution wants you to take his freedom from him,” Schiavone III said.

Schiavone III also said Anna Ritchie was a wild woman who went to Bible study “in a mini skirt and see-through blouse” as part of covering up Austin’s injuries when Robert Ritchie came home.

“Robert was not living with his wife, he was living with a murderer who was covering up the crime,” Schiavone III said.

The defense attorney told the jury Robert Ritchie is a “gentle giant” who loved his son and fought to get custody of Austin when the child was abused at mother’s home.

Schiavone III said by the time Robert Ritchie returned home, Austin was beyond help.

“Austin was a torture and murder victim,” Schiavone III said. “The crib was a place to put to put a dead baby.”

Assistant Warren County Prosecutor Steven Knippen addressed the jury last, reminding them Robert Ritchie was alone with his son for five hours after Anna left the apartment. Still he did not open the door and check on his son, he said.

“This is about what the defendant didn’t do,” Knippen said.

Robert Ritchie told police four times that he should have check on Austin, Knippen told the jury.

“He’s admitting to the crime,” Knippen said.

Austin’s grandmother and aunt were in the courtroom for much of the trial and waited for the verdict.

Sheri Gredig, the boy’s maternal grandmother, said she had a panic attack when the autopsy photos was show and had to leave the room.

“The last time I saw Austin alive was in January 2015,” she said.

Gredig said her daughter, Austin’s biological mother, did have drug problems, but Austin was never abused while in her care.

“I might have raised somebody who ended up in drugs, but I didn’t raise someone who murdered a child,” the grandmother said.

She added that when Robert Ritchie got custody of Austin, he would not let her see him.

Gredig said she was concerned about Anna Ritchie when she met her.

“I told my daughter, ‘That woman is going to hurt him (Austin),’ ” she said, adding she felt Robert was just as guilty.

Robert Ritchie’s family has also been present for the trial and waited in separate hallway for the verdict. They have not yet offered any comment.

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