(WARNING: Some details of the case are graphic.)
CHARDON, Ohio (WJW) – The jury reached a verdict Monday evening in the trial for a woman charged with dumping her newborn baby in the woods in Geauga County in 1993.
Gail Eastwood Ritchey was found guilty of murder and not guilty of aggravated murder. She was arrested in 2019.
“I’m frankly shocked and surprised at the jury’s verdict,” said defense attorney Steven Bradley. “I certainly respect the jury’s verdict, but the state frankly did not have enough evidence to meet their burden of proof.”
Closing arguments wrapped up earlier that morning.
Jurors had to decide whether they believed Ritchey’s defense claim that the baby was stillborn.
Jurors got the case around noon.
Based on the charges, the prosecution had to prove the killing was intentional.
“She made the decision to put her baby in a garbage bag,” the state argued.
According to prosecutors, because Ritchey knew she was pregnant 3 months before the child was born and did nothing to prepare for the birth of a child shows intent.
“She literally treated him like a piece of garbage,” prosecutors said. “Tossed him in the woods…didn’t even bury him.”
“There really is no evidence…no reliable evidence that this was in fact a live birth,” Ritchey’s defense claimed.
Prosecutors argued that the defense couldn’t prove the baby was born alive without a reasonable doubt.
On the stand Saturday, was Montgomery County Coroner Dr. Kent Harshbarger who said he was not able to determine if the child was born alive or dead.
He said coroners look at certain markers when determining live birth, including lung function and expanded alveoli and also food in the stomach.
Other factors, including decomposition, could cause air to fill the lungs without a breath being taken, he said.
He said he can’t determine if the baby was born at full term but that it’s most likely the case because the baby’s weight and other developmental factors were evidence of a full-term pregnancy.
The baby was known as “Geauga’s Child.” The community raised money for a funeral, headstone and burial.
Gail Eastwood Ritchey was arrested in the cold case in 2019. Investigators arrested the Euclid mother after they say DNA linked Ritchey to the child.
A Geauga County sheriff’s deputy explained that the DNA profile came from the baby’s tooth bud.
Donald Seamon described how the family tree linked back to Ritchey.
In May of 2019, they served warrants to Ritchey, her husband and her sister for DNA samples.
Seamon had a hidden camera when he met Ritchey at her home. The video was shown to jurors.
In the video, Seamon asked Ritchey if she knew why he was there.
“About a baby,” Ritchey replied.
“We’re not here to judge you, Gail. We don’t know what was going on at the time,” Seamon said.
“We’re not here to arrest you. We would like to take your DNA. We want to hear your side of the story.”
Video showed him take a DNA swab from Ritchey.
Then they showed a video of Ritchey’s interview at the sheriff’s office.
She said she learned she was pregnant about 3 months before the baby was born. She was 22 at the time.
She didn’t remember the month or day the baby was born but later said she thought it was January of 1993.
“I was at work. I was at Nanny for a family in Shaker Heights.”
She said she had been feeling sick all morning.
“I knew I was giving birth to the baby in the toilet.“
“I didn’t know what to do,” she whispered.
“I put the baby in a bag,” she said.
“I had no idea what the sex was. I never looked at it.”
“I put it in the trunk,” she said in the interview.
“I wasn’t sure what to do. No one knew.”
She was with a youth group a short time later when she dumped the baby, she told detectives.
“I got in my car and just drove…I just ended up stopping on a road,” she said.
“I took the bag out of the trunk, and I laid it in the woods.”
“I don’t remember it making any noise,” Ritchey told detectives who told her that the baby had been born alive.
Ritchey said the baby may have been left in the car for a week.
The baby was found dead in the woods on March 25, 1993. He was mauled by animals.
Shirley Jenkins was delivering newspapers when she found the dead infant.
“We were driving down the road and it looked like a baby doll on the side of the road,” Jenkins said. “I saw the blood running down his nose… He was in bad shape.”
Jenkins said she ran to a nearby house to call the police.
Her defense team said Ritchey was scared and that the child was stillborn. The medical examiner said that the child was alive when it was born.
According to the interview with detectives, she and the baby’s father were not married when she got pregnant.
“My father was very adamant about not having children before you’re married,” Ritchey told detectives in a recorded interview.
“I was afraid of what his family would think,” she said.
Ritchey said she was afraid her boyfriend, who she described as the only man who ever loved her, would leave her if he knew she was pregnant.
Ritchey told detectives she considered ending her life on the day they came for the DNA sample.
Ritchey’s Euclid neighbors described her as a church-going woman who was active in the Boy Scouts and PTA.
Ritchey has three adult children and was married to the newborn’s father at the time of her arrest.
Despite the widespread coverage of the case, Ritchey told detectives she had never heard about the investigation.
Investigators said she has not taken ownership of the baby, so he will remain buried in Thompson Cemetery as Geauga’s Child.
Ritchey was expected to take the stand in her defense, but the defense rested without her testimony Saturday.
Ritchey’s criminal trial had initially been postponed because of COVID-19.