CHARDON, Ohio (AP) — An Ohio woman who dumped the body of her newborn son in woods after giving birth in 1993 was sentenced on Tuesday to life in prison with the possibility of parole in 15 years.
A jury convicted Gail Eastwood Ritchey, 51, of murder in early April in northeast Ohio's Geauga County. Ritchey's attorney argued at trial the baby was stillborn while a prosecutor said an autopsy showed the child had drawn breaths.
Ritchey, 51, appeared at Tuesday's hearing via a remote link from the Geauga County Jail at defense attorney Steven Bradley's request because of COVID-19 concerns. Bradley said Ritchey would not speak before sentencing because of a planned appeal of her conviction.
“She has lived an exemplary life in the last 30 years,” Bradley told Judge David Ondrey, noting the numerous letters of support from friends and family submitted to the court.
Ondrey told Ritchey before sentencing that her newborn “didn't deserve what happened to him” and that she “took the easy way out” by putting the boy in a garbage bag and tossing it into a wooded area where his body was mutilated by animals and dragged onto a rural road.
Newspaper carriers found the corpse in March 1993. County residents paid for the burial of the boy they named “Geauga's Child.”
Ondrey said he struggled with Ritchey's explanation that she was young, afraid and fearful of telling her strict father she was pregnant. He noted that Ritchey told detectives at the time of her arrest in July 2019 that she had disposed the body of another newborn in a field in Cuyahoga County in 1990 or 1991.
“I think you knew what to do because you had done it before,” Ondrey said. “Calling you a monster who deserves life imprisonment is not an exaggeration.”
Jurors did not hear her confession about the first newborn death because Ondrey said it would prejudice the jury, WJW-TV previously reported.
Ritchey was identified as the child’s mother after a Geauga County sheriff’s detective submitted DNA to a public genealogical website, created a family tree of 1,400 relatives and finally narrowed the search to Ritchey, who told investigators it was her baby. She was arrested in June 2019.
Bradley said at trial that Ritchey put the newborn in a garbage bag after delivering the child at a home where she worked as a nanny. She put the bag in the trunk of her car. Days later, she drove a group of girls from the church where she was a youth leader to a weekend retreat, snuck away, and left the bag in a wooded area.
Ritchey never told anyone she was pregnant, Bradley said, and did not realize when she sat down on a toilet at her employers’ home that she was about to give birth.
Ritchey later married the newborn’s father. They have three adult children.