Ritchie jailed as police link him to 46 home burglaries

MIDDLEBURY — Around 20 Addison and Shoreham residents packed the main courtroom at the Mahaney Courthouse in Middlebury on Monday fearing the man they believe burglarized their homes — Raymond Ritchie — would be released after his arraignment on an unrelated cultivation of marijuana charge.

Instead, to their collective relief, they watched Ritchie, 37, led away in handcuffs after being denied bail by Addison County Superior Court Judge Helen Toor. That follwed testimony from a Vermont State Police investigator who said evidence recently recovered from Ritchie’s Addison home has linked him to 46 burglary cases in Addison County and beyond.

“We are thrilled,” Lorraine Franklin, whose Addison store was one of more than 100 area residences and businesses that have been burglarized since the beginning of the year.

“It’s the outcome we were hoping for,” Franklin added of Ritchie being denied bail. “He shouldn’t have been on the streets in the beginning. With 10 prior felony convictions, he shouldn’t have been out anyway.”

Ritchie was originally arraigned on Aug. 1, when he pleaded not guilty to three counts of felony unlawful trespass into an occupied residence and possession of stolen property. But based on what state police said were “thousands” of suspected stolen items recovered during a search of Ritchie’s property at 151 Algonquin Drive, authorities believed Ritchie could be linked to many more burglaries reported in Addison County thus far this year.

And Ritchie is facing a potential life sentence if convicted on any additional felony offenses. That’s because prosecutors have the discretion of enhancing the requested penalty to life in prison in cases in which a defendant has three or more felony convictions on his or her rap sheet. Ritchie’s 10 past felony convictions include such offenses as burglary, aggravated assault on a police officer, retail theft, aggravated domestic assault and obstructing justice.

Ritchie was jailed on $100,000 bail following his Aug. 1 arraignment. Given his meager financial assets disclosed in court filings, some burglary victims from Addison and Shoreham said they did not think Ritchie would be able to post bail. But neighbors learned through the Vermont Automated Notification System that bail had been posted on Ritchie’s behalf at around 7 p.m. this past Friday, Aug. 23.

Addison County Sheriff Don Keeler confirmed that Ritchie’s girlfriend — Nicole Burgos, 29, of Addison who also pleaded not guilty to marijuana cultivation charges on Monday — sold real estate at a tax sale in Addison to contract with a bail bondsman to post bond for Ritchie’s release.

“When we got the e-mail on Friday that he had made bail, we all had that moment where you’re tense again,” said Panton resident Sharon Ashcraft, another burglary victim.

“The fact that (Ritchie) was out again just infuriated everyone,” Franklin said.

But Ritchie’s freedom proved short-lived.

After spending the weekend out of jail, Ritchie appeared as scheduled in court on Monday for a status conference on his three pending unlawful trespass/possession of stolen property charges, as well as a separate felony marijuana cultivation charge — to which Ritchie pleaded not guilty.

Following his plea in the marijuana case, Addison County State’s Attorney David Fenster asked Judge Toor to order that Ritchie be held without bail, based on charges likely to come from his office related to the ongoing burglary investigation that he said is gathering momentum.

“The charges haven’t been brought, but obviously the court is aware that the state is connecting the dots in these cases,” Fenster said.

VSP Det. Chris Campbell took the stand and told Judge Toor that investigators have been looking at 116 burglaries in Addison, Chittenden and Rutland counties, as well as in New York state, that fit a similar timeline and profile.

“They are similar to cases for which you have evidence against Mr. Ritchie?” Fenster asked Campbell.

“Correct,” Campbell said, adding the VSP has thus far been able to link Ritchie to 46 of those 116 burglaries based on evidence recovered on his property.

Campbell said investigators are now preparing affidavits based on their findings. It will be up to Fenster’s office to determine which and how many of those cases are offered for prosecution.

“Sorting over the sheer numbers has been overwhelming,” Campbell said of the volume of cases.

Fenster argued the prospect of additional charges, coupled with the four felonies with which Ritchie is currently charged that could each carry a life sentence, justified Ritchie being held without bail.

“There are a great many citizens of Addison County here who are interested and concerned about the outcome of these cases because they’ve either been directly impacted by these events as victims, or as community members who’ve lived through these burglaries,” Fenster said, gesturing to the full court gallery.

James Gratton, Ritchie’s court-appointed lawyer, argued against the denial of bail.

“Mr. Ritchie stands before you today charged with cultivating three marijuana plants,” Gratton said, adding that his client had not been charged with violent acts, and that charges related to the 46 burglaries have yet to be filed by authorities.

“Mr. Ritchie posted bail, he has shown up promptly for court proceedings,” Gratton said, adding Ritchie was willing to submit to electronic monitoring or house arrest. “He obviously has no intention of going anywhere.”

Judge Toor pointed to state statutes that allow courts to deny bail in cases carrying a potential life sentence in which “the evidence is great.”

“This is an unusual case,” Judge Toor said. “I have never, ever had anybody with allegations of having been involved in so many burglaries as is suggested the defendant may have. On the other hand, that evidence isn’t actually before me yet.”

Judge Toor said her decision on bail should be based in part on the safety of the community and whether a defendant facing a potential life sentence was a risk of flight. Weighing those factors, she elected to deny bail.

Ritchie’s girlfriend, Nicole Burgos, present in the courtroom for her own arraignment, began sobbing and repeated, “No, no,” after Judge Toor rendered her decision. She was released on conditions after pleading not guilty to the cultivation of marijuana charge.

Some residents clapped at Toor’s decision and were admonished by the judge for doing so. Conspicuous and/or disruptive displays of emotion are not permitted in the courtroom.

Fenster quickly assembled those crime victims who had come to court in a separate courtroom to talk with them about the judge’s decision and what would likely come next. He said barring a successful legal argument from Gratton that would result in Judge Toor changing her mind, Ritchie would stay in jail until the cases are adjudicated and his sentences are served.

Many in the room said they were pleased to see Ritchie go back to jail.

“We can now breathe a little easier and have peace of mind,” Ashcraft said.

CHANGE IN THE LAW?

Burt they also vowed to lobby the Legislature for stricter bail and incarceration requirements for repeat offenders.

“This is the first step in a long line of steps; it’s a start,” Franklin said. “We need to make sure that he is not the only one this happens to. This needs to be across the board, so other communities don’t go through what we go through.”

Addison resident Jeff Nelson stressed the impact that the recent burglary spree has had on the community.

“Residents have been terrorized, quite frankly,” he said.

“I trust that all involved now understand that this is not ‘business as usual’ and that this community is very serious about aggressively combatting crime in our midst, even if that means putting certain public officials on the spot from time to time.”

Rep. Willem Jewett, D-Ripton, is House Majority Leader and a former longtime member of the House Judiciary Committee. He said lawmakers are prepared to entertain suggestions on how to tighten up court-related laws, providing they don’t conflict with the Constitution and a defendant’s guarantee of a fair trial and the presumption of innocence until proven guilty.

Rep. Warren Van Wyck, R-Ferrisburgh, attended Monday’s court hearing. He noted a local family member’s home was burglarized only two months ago.

“I did raise the issue a few weeks ago — how can a person with so many convictions get out so easily on bail?” Van Wyck said. “I want to know if there’s something the Legislature can do about it.”

In the meantime, Addison resident Elizabeth Armstrong said she and other burglary victims would take steps to protect themselves.

“We are not going to tolerate this in our area,” Armstrong said. “We want to put a stop to it; we’re not going to put up with it. With our Internet capability and the numbers we have and with the press, we’re solid. We’re looking out our windows, we’re on our cell phones, we’re taking pictures of people who walk up to our doors and we’re going to do a lot more.”

Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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