Serial burglar Ritchie gets 13 years to life, earful from victims at sentencing hearing
MIDDLEBURY — After hearing emotional testimony from several victims on Friday morning in Addison Superior Court’s criminal division, Judge Robert Mello approved a plea agreement that sentenced Raymond Ritchie, 38, of Addison to 13 years to life in prison on each of a long list of counts stemming from a 2012 and 2013 crime spree.
Ritchie, a formerly convicted felon, was sentenced on 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.
Most of the charges stemmed from a series of break-ins in Addison County, many in his home town and others in neighboring communities.
Those who spoke in support of the lengthy jail term emphasized the psychological impact of the break-ins in their communities and of the loss of many irreplaceable keepsakes, which included the ashes of a stillborn baby and a gift from an autistic child to a mother.
Addison’s Lorraine Franklin testified first.
“While he may not have physically injured anyone, the emotional scars he left may never heal, the loss of personal property, the loss of sense of security and safety,” Franklin said.
Franklin then addressed Ritchie directly, saying in all the many hearings she and others have attended since he was arrested July 31, 2013, she has never heard him express “remorse for his actions” or understanding for the pain he has caused.
“These are injuries whether you realize it or not. These are injuries. You have hurt this town,” she said.
Addison’s Charles Kelly said he and his wife suffered the “heartbreaking” loss of “65 cherished items representing a lifetime of family and extended family memories” as well as goods valued at $26,000.
“By far the most upsetting impact is the anguish and misery we were subjected to by this burglary. Watching my wife deal with the burglary was heartbreaking,” Kelly said.
Kelly also noted a problem that other victims of burglaries around the county have had in the past — that those who purchase stolen goods are not held accountable. Kelly said his graduation ring with his and his school’s name and his year of graduation was sold and purchased with no questions asked to a “cash-for-gold shop.”
“Vermont is no longer the Vermont I thought I knew,” he said.
Kelly also said he did not buy Ritchie’s explanation of drug addiction for his crimes: “It pains me that Ritchie … uses addiction as an excuse for his actions. An addiction which he self-inflicted on himself. No one held a gun to his head to become a user but himself.”
Travis Jacobs of Bridport also said he lost “family items I saved for my children and grandchildren.”
“I lost my sense of security,” Jacobs said. “My life has changed … I’m still apprehensive every time I come home.”
Bob Rathbun of Shoreham said he lost nothing of “great cash value” and held up a stolen item recovered from Ritchie’s home — a signed baseball from a trip friends had taken him on while his late wife was suffering from cancer.
An item Rathbun did not get back was a national park booklet stamped with the parks Rathbun had visited.
“This is something I’d wanted my kids to have when I’m gone so they could say, ‘Dad had a pretty good life,’” Rathbun said. “Nobody deserves to be treated this way.”
Addison County State’s Attorney David Fenster read a statement from a mother who came home to discover her stillborn son’s ashes had been stolen, never to be recovered.
“Again, we had lost our son,” Fenster read.
Fenster summed up in his statement in support of a plea agreement:
“The real hurt, the real harm, the real damage, came from the irreplaceable things,” he said.
Fenster also pointed to Ritchie’s “extensive criminal history,” including convictions that date back 21 years for burglary, aggravated assault, trespassing, stolen property, escape and aggravated domestic assault.
Fenster said if the 13-year sentence was approved Ritchie would remain under the watch of parole and probation officials “for the rest of his life.”
Fenster, Ritchie and Ritchie’s former court-appointed public defender James Gratton first reached the plea deal in April. Ritchie tried to back out of the deal this summer, but his new attorney, Michael McClallen, spoke in support of it on Friday.
“Mr. Ritchie has a very troubled past, a very troubled childhood, which was apparent in the police investigation. For those reasons, your honor, we would ask the court accept the plea agreement,” McClallen said.
RAYMOND RITCHIE SPEAKS
In a five-minute statement, Ritchie — who has been held in the Marble Valley Correctional Center — said he still disagreed with the length of the sentence because he had not actually committed all the burglaries, but had done business with those who had. He did say he was sorry.
“You guys think I did all of these burglaries and crimes just because I had possession of some of the property. It doesn’t mean I did the burglary. Yes, there is times where I bought stolen stuff off other people and didn’t go to the cops and say, ‘Yeah, this guy’s out doing crimes and I just bought this.’ But I just want this on record that I am sorry for what I did. I don’t know how to show that remorse. I’m not using drugs as an excuse, because drugs is my life. That’s all I know is drugs. I don’t know how to love. I don’t know how to be loved, any of that stuff,” Ritchie said.
Ritchie said that he did deserve jail time “because of all the people that I did hurt” and “I didn’t tell on the kids that I was buying the stuff from or I was supporting their drug habit by giving them drugs for the stolen property,” but that others who committed similar crimes had received lighter sentences.
“I don’t have 75 charges. How can I have 75 victims? I just want it on record that I feel like I’m being pressured, coerced and threatened to take this plea agreement by Mr. Fenster because if I don’t I’m going to trial and I’m losing and I’m getting 25 years to life is what I’m told. And I’m sorry for everything I’ve done in Addison County. I didn’t mean to go there with my drug habit and just cause chaos,” he said.
Ritchie faced the potential life sentence because he is considered a habitual offender, having been found guilty of 10 previous felonies, including some for burglary and trespass. In addition, court records show that Ritchie has been convicted of 14 misdemeanor cases.
Judge Mello was not swayed. He said that the 13-years-to-life sentence would serve to “prevent Mr. Ritchie or others from committing similar offenses in the future, to provide appropriate punishment for these serious offenses, and some opportunity for rehabilitation.”
He said he agreed with the victims and Fenster on the effect of Ritchie’s offenses, that “pieces of people’s lives” were taken.
“You couldn’t have sold an infant’s ashes to anyone even for a penny, yet you took them. To have taken items that have no value at all shows a level of callousness to the people whose houses you burglarized,” Mello said.
Mello added the “enormity of scale” of Ritchie’s crimes were “far vaster” than those who received lesser sentences “whether you took it yourself or bought it from others.”
Mello also cited Ritchie’s long previous record, the “opportunities you’ve had to stop,” and said, “a sentence of 13 years to life is appropriate.”
Mello concluded that when Ritchie leaves prison at the age of 50, “By then I hope that you will have had the opportunity for rehabilitation, and that we will never see you again. But if you do re-offend again when you get out … you will spend the rest of your life in jail.”
Afterward, Fenster spoke briefly with the roughly 20 victims and their friends and family members about the next step — restitution. The court can now assess their financial losses and Ritchie’s ability to repay them and order him to do so.
Fenster was asked how good the chances were they could be made whole.
“I don’t know what the odds are. There’s a lot of restitution owed, and he’s going to be incarcerated for a substantial period of time,” he said.
Fenster said he appreciated victims’ steady attendance at hearings since Aug. 1, 2013, when Ritchie was first arraigned.
“It’s always important to have victims participate in the process,” he said.
Also charged in connection with the Ritchie case is Nicole Burgos, 31, who has been described as Ritchie’s girlfriend and with whom he shared the Addison home. In October 2013, Vermont State Police 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 felony charges of cultivation of more than three marijuana plants and of driving under the influence. Fenster said Burgos’ cases are pending.
Kelly said he believed Ritchie’s sentence was appropriate.
“Whether it does any good for him or not, I don’t know,” Kelly said, adding, “I think the state police and Mr. Fenster did a great job in staying on it and seeing it through. I’m grateful for that.”
NEW WAY OF LIFE
He said Addison residents are, of course, relieved to see Ritchie behind bars, but are painfully aware break-ins remain common in rural Vermont, although Addison has been largely spared in the past year.
“So we always have to remain vigilant. We always do a self-check before we leave the house, hiding things in different places,” Kelly said. “It’s just a way of life for us now to be very careful now. It’s not the way it used to be.”
The town’s Neighborhood Watch also remains active, and Kelly hopes residents have possibly deterred others.
And he believes they just might have had an impact on the Ritchie case.
“As a group I think we have, because we were all more or less of one voice,” Kelly said. “I don’t know how many trips we’ve made over here — eight, 10. So it’s heartwarming to see good people coming together to want to see justice done.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].
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