Jury begins deliberation in trial of father whose son was scalded as punishment and died

LEBANON, Ohio -- Robert Ritchie's fate is now in the hands of a Warren County jury. He faces up to 11 years in prison on charges connected to his 4-year-old son's death.

Robert Ritchie is charged with involuntary manslaughter and felony child endangering because he did not seek medical treatment for his son Austin, who was held in a bathtub of scalding water by his stepmother, Anna Ritchie.

Anna Ritchie is already serving time for her hand in Austin's death; Ritchie admitted to police that she put the boy's legs in a bath of scalding hot water as punishment for "being a brat." Text messages showed Anna Ritchie's desire to punish the boy.

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, the state alleged.

Robert Ritchie was told by Anna about the injuries that included peeling, bleeding skin, Kraft said. He checked the water temperature, but not his child, Kraft said. On Wednesday, the jury heard an exchange of texts between Anna and Robert in which Robert said the boy was "fine...not dead."

If Robert Ritchie had opened the door, saw the injuries and sought medical treatment, “Austin would be here today,” Kraft said.

"He knew that his son had a serious injury he failed to act on that knowledge and that failure resulted in a risk to Austin," the assistant prosecutor said.

Ritchie's defense team argued that Anna Ritchie covered up the truth and kept Robert from checking on his son.

"Knowing what we know now, yes, Robert should have driven home immediately grabbed his child and taken him to the first hospital he could get to, which is exactly what he would have done had he known what we know now," defense attorney Frank Schiavone III said. "Now we know the truth. Robert was not getting information that he could trust. He was dealing with a murderer."

Shiavone III called his client “a gentle giant” and said he did not lie to police.

“Hindsight is 20/20 and this case is a perfect example,” the attorney said.

If Robert Ritchie had walked into the room, he would have seen Austin sleeping, because Anna Ritchie covered him up, his attorney said.

“Anna Ritchie took Rob’s child from him, now the prosecution wants you to take his freedom from him,” Schiavone III said.

Schiavone III also said Anna Ritchie was a wild woman who went to Bible study “in a mini skirt and see-through blouse” as part of covering up Austin’s injuries when Robert Ritchie came home.

The prosecution also brought up Anna Ritchie's Bible study plans to remind the jury that Ritchie was alone with his son for several hours when his wife was out of the house.

"So even if he was too scared to go in when she grabbed him by the shirt collar what about those three hours where it's just him alone with his son? At that point does his obligation kick in? No," said Asst. Prosecutor Steven Knippen. "He chooses to do nothing with that."

The Journal-News is a media partner of WCPO - 9 On Your Side.

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