Woman convicted of murder in 1993 newborn baby death in Ohio

CHARDON, Ohio (AP) — A jury has convicted a woman of murdering a newborn baby who authorities say was dumped in the woods of Ohio nearly three decades ago.

Geauga County jurors deliberated for a few hours Monday before reaching a verdict in the case of Gail Eastwood Ritchey, 51, of Euclid. Her bail was later revoked by the judge and she was arrested. A sentencing date has not yet been set. She was acquitted of aggravated murder.

Newspaper porters found the newborn’s body on a rural road in Thompson Township in March 1993, about a month after the child was born. Authorities said the baby was dumped in the woods in a trash bag and animals mutilated the body and dragged it down the road.

Community members paid for the funeral, burial and a headstone bearing the inscription “Geauga’s Child”.

The defendant was identified as the child’s mother after a county sheriff’s detective submitted her DNA to a public genealogy website, created a family tree of 1,400 relatives and ultimately narrowed the search to her. She was arrested in June 2019.

Defense attorney Steven Bradley challenged a Cuyahoga County coroner’s finding that the baby was born alive in the bathroom of a Shaker Heights home where his client worked as a nanny. Bradley said she put the newborn in a trash bag and left him in the woods in Geauga County as she led a church group on a weekend retreat.

“She was isolated and alone,” Bradley said. “There was no one to confide in. She was alone with a group of people in her world who never saw her pregnant. Neither did Gail.

Prosecutors, however, argued that the defendant knew she was pregnant three months before the birth and had done nothing to prepare, and they argued that this showed intent.

“She literally treated him like trash,” prosecutors said. “I threw him in the woods…didn’t even bury him.”

After the verdict, Bradley said he was “frankly shocked and surprised”.

“I certainly respect the jury’s verdict, but frankly, the state did not have enough evidence to meet its burden of proof,” he said.

The defendant, who did not testify, later married the newborn’s father. They have three adult children. Authorities said she told investigators at the time of her arrest that she had disposed of the body of another child two years before her son was born.