Father waits to learn if he will be tried again in son’s scalding death

Warren County jurors cannot reach verdict, judge declares mistrial.

A Franklin father charged in connection with his 4-year-old son’s scalding death is free from jail after a mistrial was declared Friday in Warren County Common Pleas Court.

Robert Ritchie, 31, has been behind bars since May when he was indicted on charges of involuntary manslaughter and felony child endangering for allegedly not seeking medical treatment for his son Austin, who in March was held in a bathtub of scalding water by his stepmother, Anna Ritchie.

Warren County County prosecutors said they will decide within two weeks whether to retry Robert Ritchie.

After four days of testimony and seven hours of deliberation, the jury of six women and six men, returned to the courtroom about 10 a.m. Friday and told Judge Robert Peeler they were deadlocked. The judge told told them to go back and try again. A little over two hours later, the jury foreman said they could not reach a decision, and Peeler declared a mistrial.

Defense attorney attorney Frank Schiavone III immediately asked the judge for a lower bond. Robert Ritchie has been in the county jail since his indictment in lieu of $250,000 bond.

“He is not a violent man, I cannot imagine him being a flight risk for one major reason: for two months he was free, he interviewed with police …. Robert remained in the area and was employed at his job,” Schiavone III said, noting he has that job as a manger at a local Dollar Tree store to go back to.

The defense attorney reminded the judge the crime Robert Ritchie is charged with is one of omission, and he is not accused of harming his son. Schiavone III asked the judge release Ritchie on his own recognizance.

Prosecutors argued the crimes against Robert Ritchie were serious and he is a flight risk.

Peeler took little time in his decision and ruled Robert Ritchie be released from jail on his own recognizance. Both he and his family in the courtroom cried.

Schiavone III and his son Frank Schiavone IV hugged their client and his family.

“Thank you for trusting us,” Schiavone III said.

Robert Ritchie’s mother and father, who did not want to give their names, praised the defense attorneys and looked forward to having their son home for Christmas.

“Total elation, this has been such a pressure-packed case,” Schiavone III said.

The attorney added, Robert Ritchie “did what he could do based on the information he had, and most of the information he had were lies precipitated by the stepmother who killed the child.”

Schiavone III said if the decision is to try the case again, “then that is what we will do.”

After talking with the jurors, Schiavone III said the split of the jury was six to acquit and six to convict.

Warren County Prosecutor David Fornshell said the the jurors on both sides were very adamant about their decisions. He would not comment on the breakdown of the jury.

“I am very proud and have a lot of respect in the seriousness in which this jury took on their task,” Fornshell said. “They were all uniform Mr. Ritchie was negligent in terms of his failure to check on his child and failure to obtain medical treatment, but the standard is higher, it is recklessly. (They) had a difference of opinion on that particular issue - whether his negligence rose to the level of recklessness.”

In closing arguments Thursday morning, 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.

Schiavone III said that, if Robert Ritchie had walked into the room, he would have seen Austin sleeping, because Anna Ritchie covered him up.

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

Anna Ritchie is serving 18 years to life in prison after pleading guilty to murder for causing the injuries to Austin that led to his death.

STAYING WITH THE STORY

The Journal-News has reported on the scalding death of a 4-year-old Franklin boy since March, covering the investigation, indictments and court proceedings. We will continue to follow developments as prosecutors determine if they will seek another trial against the Franklin father.