Alleged burglar Raymond Ritchie fights his plea agreement
MIDDLEBURY — The Addison man arrested in July 2013 and accused of committing a rash of burglaries in his hometown and other county communities was back in court on Monday, this time contesting the terms of a plea agreement to which he agreed in April.
According to documents in Addison Superior Court’s Criminal Division, Raymond Ritchie, 38, agreed in April to a deal that would mean 13 years in prison for pleading guilty to three counts of unlawful trespass by a habitual offender, one count of felony possession of stolen property by a habitual offender, and six counts of burglary by a habitual offender.
But in May Ritchie — who has prior felony convictions on his record and has been held without bail for a year at the Marble Valley Correctional Center — and his then attorney, court-appointed public defender James Gratton, filed a motion asking that those guilty pleas be withdrawn, effectively seeking to end the plea agreement.
Addison County State’s Attorney David Fenster filed a motion in opposition. Monday morning’s hearing was intended to resolve whether the court would accept Ritchie and Gratton’s motion, or uphold Fenster’s to enforce the plea deal.
But after what Addison resident Lorraine Franklin — who attended the hearing — called “a rant” by Ritchie, and an offer from Judge Robert Mello that Ritchie could repeat what he said under oath, Ritchie instead ended up with a new court-appointed attorney and a new court date to hear his motion.
Ritchie had previously asked that Gratton be replaced — once at the session during which the plea deal was reached, according to court documents — and Mello had denied the request.
But according to Franklin on Monday Gratton said Ritchie had refused to speak with him prior to the court session and Ritchie would be testifying without the benefit of counsel.
At that point the attorneys and judge conferred in a side session, and the court appointed Michael McClallen as Ritchie’s new attorney. Given that McClallen needs to review the case before representing his new client, a new court date was set to review Ritchie’s request to change his plea: Aug. 19 at 1:30 p.m.
ADDISON SHOWS UP
Franklin plans to attend again. She was one of about 20 Addison residents who showed up on Monday and who have been a regular presence at Ritchie’s court dates.
They have lobbied for harsh punishment for the man not only due to the sheer volume of his crimes — Vermont State Police said in a 2013 press release that at that point 52 victims had identified items recovered from Ritchie’s Addison home — but also because of what Franklin called “the fear factor” he created in the community.
Although some believe the 13 years called for in the plea deal — which would include credit for time served, Fenster said — are still too few, Franklin said most were satisfied.
“We’re happy with the 13,” she said. “I think that’s the minimum. If anything he should have more. He wreaked havoc in this town.”
Citing what she said is Ritchie’s lack of remorse, Franklin dismissed his claim in court that 13 years is too harsh for property crimes.
“He says, ‘I didn’t hurt anybody,’ but he did … and he needs to pay for that. And there’s the fact he’s a career criminal,” she said. “I have no doubt in my mind if he was released tomorrow he would do it all over again.”
PLEA DEAL MOTIONS
In arguing against the plea deal Ritchie signed, the motion filed by Gratton stated that Ritchie was “under the influence of Suboxone and other medications that interfered with his ability to understand the process. Defendant further alleges that he thought the agreement was for a suspended sentence.”
Fenster, in his motion in opposition, noted that Ritchie testified that he was free of drugs and alcohol when he reviewed the plea agreement and that he had read and understood the document.
Fenster also notes:
“For each count, the plea agreement recites:
Sentence minimum: 13 years
Sentence maximum: Life
The sentence is a sentence to serve and not be suspended.”
Fenster’s motion adds, “This provision is recited 11 times.”
Franklin said she believed part of the tension between Ritchie and Gratton stems from disagreement about how good a plea bargain offer Ritchie is likely to receive.
“His lawyer has been saying take the deal,” she said, “and that’s not what Ritchie wants to hear.”
As part of Monday’s proceedings, another court date for Ritchie was postponed, a July 23 sentencing hearing for marijuana cultivation of more than three plants, a charge that stems from the original VSP search of his home.
Fenster said that hearing will wait until the plea deal is cleared up.
“Everything’s off until the court resolves this other issue one way or another,” he said.
If the court upholds the plea agreement, Fenster said, “we would move toward sentencing,” with the most likely outcome being the court imposing the agreed-upon sentence.
If Ritchie’s motion prevails, the case “would return to the ordinary trial process,” Fenster said.
Also charged in connection with the Ritchie case is his girlfriend, Nicole Burgos, 30, with whom he shared the Addison home. In October, VSP cited her for felony possession of stolen property, a charge they said in a press release “is relative to the wave of 2013 Addison County burglaries that subsequently led to the July 31 arrest of Burgos’ domestic partner, Raymond R. Ritchie.”
Burgos also faces the same marijuana cultivation charge as Ritchie. Fenster said both of Burgos’ cases are still pending.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].
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