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

The woman who held her 4-year-old stepson in a bathtub of scalding water before he eventually died of shock has been sentenced to 18 years to life in prison by a Warren County judge.

Prosecutors showed gut-wrenching autopsy photos of the boy and the injuries he suffered just after Anna Ritchie pleaded guilty as charged Thursday in Warren County Common Pleas Court to murder, involuntary manslaughter, child endangering and felonious assault.

Ritchie, 24, held Austin Cooper in a bathtub of scalding water on March 16 until he was burned on about 28 percent of his body. Then she put the boy to bed, where he eventually died of shock.

Ritchie’s trial had been scheduled to begin later this month, but instead of a pre-trial conference Thursday, she entered the guilty pleas.

Before sentencing, Warren County Prosecutor David Fornshell showed autopsy photos of the boy’s injuries. Many present in the courtroom could not look at the photos that showed burns to the child’s feet, buttocks, legs and genitalia.

“As bad as these pictures are, probably the most horrifying picture that we have is not terribly graphic,” Fornshell said as the final photo was displayed.

In that photo, Ritchie’s fingernail marks can be seen on the boy’s upper arms, an indication that she held him down as “he fought and screamed to get out of scalding hot water,” Fornshell said.

Ritchie offered an apology before sentencing, saying, “I am deeply sorry for what happened. I know no amount of I’m sorry can bring him back.”

Defense attorney Seth Cantwell told the judge that Ritchie was not a monster or evil but that “she made a terrible series of mistakes that day.”

Judge Robert Peeler had strong words for Ritchie before giving her the maximum sentence.

“This is incomprehensible,” he said. “It is just beyond something I can find words for.”

Then he added, “none of us are God and she will have to deal with that at the appropriate time.”

The fatal child abuse came because Ritchie resented her stepson, according to Fornshell.

“Anna Cooper resented Austin Cooper … she could no longer go on as many dates with her husband,” he said.

Bath time, which the young body disliked, became a focus of that resentment and Ritchie purposely held the child in water that she knew was scalding, Fornshell said.

When she saw the child’s skin floating in the tub and his feet bleeding, Ritchie put him in pajamas and socks so that his blood would not stain the bedding, he said.

“He cried in his bed for two to three hours,” Fornshell said.

Neither Ritchie nor her husband, Robert, checked on the child until 16 hours later, but by that time he had died from shock.

Robert Ritchie, 31, is facing charges of involuntary manslaughter and felony child endangering for allegedly failing to obtain medical treatment for his son.

Sheri Gredig, Austin’s maternal grandmother, spoke in court prior to the sentencing.

“She took something from me that I will never get back,” Gredig said. “That was not punishment she gave him, it was an evil death sentence.”

Gredig stood just a few feet from Ritchie in the courtroom as she spoke.

“She has no remorse, she doesn’t feel guilty for anything she did, she was jealous because he wasn’t hers,” Gredig said. “She is just evil … she is evil. She can’t even look at me.”

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