State: Father failed to get help in Franklin child’s scalding death

Defense lawyers say stepmother concealed injuries.

Robert Ritchie committed a crime of omission in March when he failed to get medical treatment after learning his 4-year-old son had suffered severe injuries at the hands of his wife, according to Warren County prosecutors.

But defense attorneys told the jury Monday, in the first day of Ritchie's trial, that Anna Ritchie, who pleaded guilty to murder, minimized the injuries to her husband, who believed his spouse.

Ritchie, 31, 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.

“Four-year-old Austin Cooper lay in his room for 14 hours with no one to help him,” Assistant Warren County Prosecutor Julie Kraft said during opening statements. “Had he (Ritchie) opened the door, checked on his son, got him the medical help he needed, there is a 99 percent chance he would be alive today.”

Anna Ritchie could not deal with Austin, who was Robert’s child, and was angry about the situation, Kraft said. Robert Ritchie knew about his wife’s feeling towards his son.

On March 16, Anna Ritchie held the boy in the a scalding bath tub of water cause burns that eventually led to his death.

Kraft said in a text message to her husband after the incident at 5 p.m., Anna Ritchie said, ‘I’ve burned him in the tub, his feet are bleeding, when you get home you have to check the water temperature.”

But Robert Ritchie did not rush home and continued to run errands, according to the prosecutor. When he did return home, Robert Ritchie did test the water and “yanked back his hand … he knew how hot that water was.”

When Anna Ritchie left that night to go to Bible study, Robert Ritchie said he heard his son talking and playing with his stuffed animals through the bedroom door, Kraft said.

The assistant prosecutor said Robert Ritchie never opened the door to check on the child, not until he was found dead the next morning.

In a 911 call played for the jury, Robert Ritchie tells a Franklin dispatcher “my son died.” When she asked if he wanted to perform CPR, Robert Ritchie said “he’s stiff as a board.” Anna Ritchie was not home when he found the child dead.

Defense Attorneys Frank Schiavone III and Frank Schiavone IV say Anna Ritchie knew the injuries she had caused to the child and began the coverup of her actions.

“Anna Ritchie is the one who left that morning because she knew what she had done,” Schiavone III told the jury. He added there are also messages showing she minimized the injuries.

The defense also told the jury that the injuries were not visible to someone just walking into the bedroom because he was dressed in long pants, a top and socks then by bed covers.

“All injuries below the waist under multiple layers of covers,” Schiavone III said. He also pointed out there will be no evidence presented that the boy had cried out in pain.

“There will be no witnesses who will say there were any screams from Austin,” Schiavone III said in opening statements.

Franklin Police Sgt. Shannon Cotton, first to the scene, testified he could see the burns on Austin’s legs when he arrived, and there was also vomit on the child’s face. Robert Ritchie told him the boy had been burned when his wife gave him a bath.

When Anna Ritchie returned to the residence after getting a call from Robert Ritchie, Cotton said she told him she was responsible.

Franklin Police Lt. Gerald Massey testified when he arrived at the scene just as paramedics were lifting Austin from the bed, he observed the water heater to be on the lowest setting.

“He (Robert Ritchie) said he had turned it down twice,” Massey testified.

Jury selection took about three hours with six women and six men being selected. Warren County Common Pleas Judge Robert Peeler, prosecutors and defense attorneys asked several times if potential jurors could sit through a trial with graphic evidence and disturbing photos of a dead child.

“This involves a painful death to a child. You are going to see some gruesome, gruesome photos. Photos that no one should ever have to see,” Assistant Prosecutor Steven Knippen said.

The trial continues Tuesday with six prosecution witnesses. Anna Ritchie is expected to testify.

About the Author