CHARDON, Ohio (AP) — A defense attorney during an opening statement Thursday in the trial of a woman accused of killing and then dumping her newborn son outside Cleveland in 1993 said his client is not guilty of murder because the infant was stillborn.
Gail Ritchey, 51, faces aggravated murder and murder charges in Geauga County. Newspaper carriers found the body of the newborn on a rural road in March 1993, about a month after the child was born. Authorities have said the infant was dumped in woods in a garbage bag and that animals had mutilated the body and dragged it onto the roadway.
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.
Community members paid for a funeral, burial and a headstone marked "Geauga's Child."
Defense attorney Steven Bradley in his opening statement disputed a Cuyahoga County coroner's conclusion the baby was born alive and was breathing when Ritchey gave birth in the bathroom of a Shaker Heights home where she worked as a nanny.
Bradley said Ritchey put the newborn in a garbage bag that she put 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 and left the bag in a wooded area in Geauga County.
Bradley said the assistant coroner, who is now deceased, concluded the child was born alive based on three microscope slides of lung tissue that he said showed the infant had drawn a breath.
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.
"She was isolated and alone," Bradley said. "There was no one to confide with. She was alone with a group of people in her world that never saw her as pregnant. Neither did Gail."
The three slides show tiny sacs in the lung called alveoli had inflated, which Bradley said could have been caused by decomposition of the body.
Ritchey later married the newborn's father. They have three adult children.
She told investigators at the time of her arrest that she had disposed of another infant's body two years prior to the birth of her son, authorities said at the time.
Bradley said Ritchey would testify at trial.
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