Court rebuffs alleged burglar’s claim for bail
MIDDLEBURY — After a failed attempt this past Tuesday in Addison Superior Court’s criminal division to win his pre-trial freedom, the Addison resident suspected of committing many burglaries in Addison County and neighboring counties will try again on Sept. 25.
At 9 a.m. on that Wednesday in the Mahady Courthouse, Raymond Ritchie, 37, will attend a “weight of the evidence” hearing that could, in theory, free him until he is tried on burglary, unlawful trespass and marijuana cultivation charges.
Many from his hometown of Addison, which was particularly hard-hit by a home burglary spree in the first six months of this year, will attend that hearing. Many say they are victims of what Vermont State Police and Addison County State’s Attorney David Fenster allege is a crime spree by Ritchie, who has previously been convicted of 10 felonies.
“Our whole concern is he shouldn’t be allowed out … We think he’ll take off,” said former West Addison General Store owner Lorraine Franklin. “On the 25th we’ll have a large group there.”
Michelle Kelly is another alleged victim of Ritchie — at whose home police say they have found evidence linking Ritchie to at least 46 burglary cases.
On this past Friday, Kelly recalled the months of break-ins that preceded Ritchie’s late-July arrest.
“Everybody in town felt like it was a reign of terror,” she said.
On Aug. 26 Judge Helen Toor first granted Ritchie $100,000 bail. Ritchie came up with that when his girlfriend — Nicole Burgos, 29, of Addison, who along with Ritchie pleaded not guilty to marijuana cultivation charges on Aug. 26 — sold real estate at a tax sale in Addison to contract with a bail bondsman to post bond for his release.
But VSP Det. Chris Campbell then testified that state police had recovered “thousands” of suspected stolen items during a search of Ritchie’s property at 151 Algonquin Drive, and they believed Ritchie could be linked to as many as 116 burglaries in Addison, Rutland and Chittenden counties and in New York this year.
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 because of his prior felonies, justified Ritchie being held without bail.
Judge Toor pointed to state statutes that allow court to deny bail in cases carrying a potential life sentence in which “the evidence is great,” and denied bail. Ritchie was then returned to the Marble Valley Correctional Center.
Ritchie was first arraigned on Aug. 1, when he pleaded not guilty to three counts each of felony unlawful trespass into an occupied residence and possession of stolen property.
On this past Tuesday, the court convened because Ritchie requested a “bail review hearing,” first in an eight-page, handwritten document dated Sept. 2. That was ruled inadmissible because he is still represented by Ritchie’s court-appointed lawyer James Gratton, but Gratton filed a quick statement on Sept. 10 to request the hearing.
In his handwritten filing, Ritchie argued, in part, that:
• It was “cruel and unusual punishment … to grant defendant his constitutionally recognized liberty and then remand him without bail.”
• That he was likely to show up for future court dates because he “appeared under his own volition” previously, his family had paid “$10,000 and deeded property for the remainder of the $100,000 to a certified bondsman,” and he had “violated no conditions of the previously imposed bail.”
• The “mere possibility that a defendant will face a life sentence following a conviction cannot be enough to reverse the court’s normal presumption that an accused should remain at liberty pending trial.”
• “Regardless of whether after conviction, he is found to be a habitual offender he will be released on his minimum sentence, and faces only lifelong supervision as opposed to life imprisonment thereby lessening the risk of flight for purposes of bail consideration.”
But those arguments went unheard at the Sept. 10 hearing. Fenster said, essentially, bail review hearings can’t be held if no bail was granted.
“A decision to hold someone without bail is reviewed by the Vermont Supreme Court, not by way of a bail review hearing,” Fenster said.
On this past Tuesday, the parties instead agreed to the Sept. 25 weight of the evidence hearing.
Fenster said at such a hearing prosecutors must show the strength of their case.
“In order to hold someone without bail, the state has to demonstrate the evidence of guilt is great,” he said.
The investigation into items found in Ritchie’s home is ongoing, with the sheer volume of materials making it a time-consuming process, Fenster said. State police are trying to determine who owned what property found on Ritchie’s property and where it came from, he said.
“They’re still working on that,” Fenster said.
As for whether additional charges will be brought before Sept. 25, Fenster responded, “We are still working on those.”
Some are frustrated by the pace of the investigation.
“It seems as though there has been plenty of time to make a showing that this person is responsible for many crimes,” wrote resident Jeff Nelson in an email to Fenster and others. “Frankly, the fact that there have been NO burglaries in Addison since he was arrested several weeks ago is important and compelling evidence.”
Witnesses said there was discussion on this past Tuesday that Ritchie may take the stand on his own behalf on Sept. 25 to make his own case. Franklin said she was not impressed with what she saw of Ritchie in court.
“It’s all about him … and the money,” Franklin said. “He showed no remorse.”
Addison residents have formed a Neighborhood Watch that organizers said is working well, and Kelly said residents will also continue to lobby Vermont lawmakers to “rebalance the rights of criminals with the rights of communities.”
But they also remain focused on a man they believe is responsible for so much loss and fear in their town.
Kelly wrote in an email that Addison residents are particularly upset because of the “sheer number of thefts attributed to him, the monetary losses, the feeling of victimization and violation of your personal effects and home. The loss of irreplaceable heirlooms … I often think victims are ignored and treated like shadow people in public opinion and in court decisions.”
The bail issue thus hits hard, she wrote.
“Tie this in with his criminal history, prior convictions and recent allegations. He lived in Addison, he knew the people here,” Kelly said. “You can see why the people of Addison want justice and Ritchie without bail.”
Residents will not feel safe if Ritchie is at liberty before a trial, she said.
“If he does get out, there will be a sense of panic here,” Kelly said.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].
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