'It was an accident,' father texted wife after fatal scalding bath

PD: 4-year-old boy died as a result of punishment

LEBANON, Ohio -- "No one's fault...it was an accident," Robert Ritchie texted his wife, Anna, after she told him his son's legs were bleeding after a scalding hot bath, a punishment she gave the boy.

“He needs to know being a brat has consequences," she texted Ritchie earlier.

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.

During the interview with Franklin Detective Jeff Stewart, Robert Ritchie said Anna told him before he got home from work on March 15 that Austin had been burned in the tub, the Journal-News reported. She told him his legs were red and peeling, Ritchie said.

“She said he is fine,” Robert Ritchie said to the detective. “You want to believe your wife.”

Jurors also saw text messages between Robert and Anna on Wednesday, which indicated Robert knew about the severe injuries before he was home.

Franklin Detective Christopher Wong read text messages that were obtained from Anna Ritchie’s cell phone.

The afternoon of March 15, the day Austin suffered fatal injuries, Anna texted Rob that Austin is throwing things and that the child “needs to know being a brat has consequences.”

Later, after Anna gives the child the bath, she and Rob text about the boy’s injuries. She told Rob that Austin’s feet were bleeding and that he was playing with the skin in the bathtub.

Anna texted him that she feels bad and that she “had no idea (the water) was so scorching.”

Rob texts back, “No one’s fault, it was an accident…it’s OK. He is still alive and apparently he can still walk.”

The day before on March 14, text messages show the couple had discussed disciplining Austin, including giving him a bath. 

In an interview with Franklin police, Anna told the detective that she was angry with Austin when she put him in the bathtub.

“But he always screams bloody murder at bath time,” she said in the interview.

Anna told the detective she made the water hot because she was mad at the child, but she “didn’t think it would be so scalding hot.”

“I wanted it to be warm, but not to intentionally burn him,” Anna said in the interview.

Anna told the detective she held Austin in the hot bath water for 25 minutes. When she finally raised him out of the tub the child was strangely silent and she guessed he was in shock. She told the detective the child’s feet were bleeding and his skin had come off in the water, Anna said in the interview.

Anna told the detective she put socks on Austin’s feet to avoid getting blood on the bed.

The jurors heard Anna tell the detective in the video: “I will admit it was a form of punishment, but I didn’t think it was going to cause skin to fall off him.”

Anna told the detective in the recorded interview that she told Robert Ritchie that she had burned his son in the bath and that the child’s feet were bleeding.

Anna told the detective she didn’t check on Austin the next morning because she didn’t want to see his injuries.

Robert Ritchie told detectives that he checked on his son’s welfare that night by putting his ear to the bedroom door and that he heard the child talking.

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