Mistrial declared after dad in child scalding death gets sick in court

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Caption
Robert Ritchie was transported from the Warren County Courthouse by medics after becoming ill during his trial. A mistrial was declared after Ritchie became sick.

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

A mistrial was declared Tuesday in the second trial of Robert Ritchie, the Franklin father charged in connection with his 4-year-old son’s scalding death.

Just an hour into the second day of testimony in Warren County Common Pleas Court, Ritchie became ill during testimony of Dr. Christopher Kiefer, who performed the boy’s autopsy.

About five autopsy photos of Austin Cooper were shown to the jury on the large screen when the defense suddenly requested a break.

MORE: Franklin father’s retrial for scalding death begins

Richie then began to vomit and was taken from the courtroom where his condition worsened and he was taken away in ambulance.

After meeting with Judge Robert Peeler in chambers, defense attorneys and Assistant Warren County Prosecutor Steven Knippen both requested a mistrial.

“Mr. Ritchie progressively got worse to the point where he could not stand,” defense attorney Frank Schiavone III said. “He was put down on the floor, 911 was called immediately … ”

Knippen told the judge that the jury had witnessed Ritchie getting ill because they had not yet exited the courtroom.

“Every member of the jury was turned and looking at Mr. Ritchie as his head was in the trash can and he appeared to be vomiting. Based on the jury witnessing that, I don’t think the state has a choice but to ask for a mistrial … I don’t think there is anything that can be done to get the image out of this jury’s head,” Knippen said.

Peeler said he was not sure a person getting sick in the courtroom was necessarily case for a mistrial, but given the totality of the circumstances and the uncertainty of Richie’s medical condition, he would grant the mistrial.

MORE: Jurors hear father’s police interview after boy’s death

A new trial date of Aug. 21 has been scheduled for Ritchie.

He is charged with felony child endangering and involuntary manslaughter for allegedly not checking on his son for 15 hours after learning the child had been burned severely by his wife, Anna Ritchie.

Anna Ritchie is serving a 18 years to life in prison after pleading guilty to murder for the boy’s death on March 15.

MORE: Franklin woman admits guilt in scalding death of 4-year-old stepson

In December, a mistrial was declared in Ritchie’s first trial after a jury could not reach a verdict.

Defense attorney Frank Schiavone IV said Tuesday afternoon that Ritchie remained in the hospital.

“We are very upset and extremely concerned about Mr. Ritchie. Unfortunately Mr. Ritchie will have to endure another trial. This entire situation has been extremely painful and heartbreaking for Robert and his entire family,” Schiavone IV said.

Warren County Prosecutor David Fornshell said while declaring a mistrial is “frustrating for everyone” anytime anything that dramatic happens in the courtroom there is always a likelihood of an issue on appeal.

It is not known how Ritchie’s illness could have influenced the jury — perhaps by creating sympathy or by some believing it was an act, Fornshell said. Either way, he said it is better to choose a new jury.

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