In a surprise development Tuesday morning (Dec. 11), 29-year-old Chad Andrew Ritchie entered Alford guilty pleas on all four charges against him stemming from the November 8, 2017 death of 22-month-old toddler Malachi Zimmerman and injuries to his twin brother. An Alford plea is entered when a defendant accepts that the prosecution has enough evidence to convict, but does not admit guilt.
Under the terms of the agreement an “active” prison sentence – time actually served – is capped at 20 years. In accepting the plea at 11:32 a.m. Warren County Circuit Court Judge Clifford “Clay” Athey noted the agreed-upon sentencing cap was above the recommended midrange sentencing on the charges, which include Second Degree Murder.
During court discussion about the suggested agreement, Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Layton noted recommended sentencing ranges of 14-years, 9 months on the low end to 24 years, 7 months at the high end, with 19 years, 8 months at the mid-range recommendation.
Questioned by the judge on his understanding of the plea agreement, Ritchie repeatedly answered, “Yes sir,” hesitating only once at the question that he agreed the prosecution had enough evidence to convict him. After a brief discussion with his counsel Ritchie finally again replied, “Yes sir.”
The involved twin toddlers were the children of Ritchie’s then girlfriend Tabitha Zimmerman, with whom he lived on Blue Mountain Road in eastern Warren County. The children were in the care of Ritchie the day of Malachi’s death last November.
The case file and testimony on day one of the trial, which began Monday afternoon shortly after 4 p.m., indicated that Zimmerman called the Warren County Sheriff’s Office at 6:36 p.m. Wednesday, November 8, 2017 to report that her 22-month old son was not breathing. Zimmerman was not at the house, according to the case file, but had been told by Ritchie that one of her sons was not breathing.
After being treated by Warren County Fire and Rescue at the scene and in transport to Warren Memorial Hospital, Malachi Zimmerman was pronounced dead at the hospital. Cause of death was determined to be cardiac arrest brought on by internal bleeding from a ruptured intestine that flooded the child’s stomach cavity. See Related Story
It appeared from discussion between attorneys and the judge Tuesday morning that the sentencing recommendation on the three lesser felony charges – malicious wounding and two counts of cruelty causing injury to children – would be five years each, with the judge likely determining a lengthier sentence on the Second Degree Murder guilty plea.
The judge noted that the agreement does not limit the actual sentence he can impose or any probationary period, only the actual time to be served in prison.
The judge ordered a pre-sentence report prepared and scheduled a sentencing hearing for March 22, 2019, on the 9 a.m. docket. Witnesses in the courthouse for the trial were brought into the courtroom and the prosecution and defense both called out a list of those witnesses they anticipated calling during the sentencing hearing. It appeared that five Ritchie family members were on that defense list.
When 90-days was suggested to allow the probation office to prepare the pre-sentence report, defense counsel Jason Ransom asked the court if that timeframe could be expedited down to 60 days.
Ransom noted that his client has been incarcerated at RSW Regional Jail in a solitary confinement cell for 23 hours a day since his November 9, 2017 arrest – “It’s maddening,” Ransom said of his client’s jail confinement, likely imposed for his own protection.
While Athey said he would try to accommodate the defense request, he noted that the probation office was under a pretty heavy caseload right now. A probation office official present told the court the office was currently working on six other pre-sentence reports.
As discussion of court schedules and sentencing hearing witness availability took potential return dates, first into April and then May, it was agreed to return to the first Ritchie sentencing hearing date suggested – March 22.
The twins’ mother Tabitha Zimmerman, 29, has been charged on two counts of cruelty and injuries to children revolving around what prosecutors contend was a willful neglect of signs of a pattern of abuse by her former boyfriend. The Ritchie defense said in its opening statement that older marks on the children were the result of being active toddlers prone to falling and rough play with each other, not a sign of any pattern of abuse.
That is a contention Zimmerman’s attorney John Bell, who was an observer on both days of the Ritchie trial, is likely to argue as well. Following Tuesday’s developments Bell said Tuesday’s plea in the Ritchie case did not really impact his client’s defense – that the physical violence – described as disciplinary “smacking” by the defense on day one of the trial – Ritchie admitted to on November 8, 2017, was an aberration, rather than a pattern of behavior.
Zimmerman’s trial is scheduled for April 8-9-10 in the same Warren County Circuit Courtroom.
Front Royal man sentenced for role in Baltimore-Front Royal heroin pipeline distribution conspiracy
Nikolai Hall-Andujar, of Front Royal, Virginia, was sentenced yesterday to 46 months in prison for his role in a heroin distribution conspiracy that brought hundreds of grams of the drug from Baltimore to Front Royal between 2015 and 2018. United States Attorney Thomas T. Cullen and Jesse R. Fong, Special Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Washington Field Division made the announcement today.
“The scourge of heroin and other illicit drugs entering the Northern Shenandoah County community has caused pain, addiction, and death for years,” First Assistant United States Attorney Daniel P. Bubar said today. “Eradicating these potentially lethal substances remains a top priority for law enforcement and I am grateful to the Drug Enforcement Administration and all the agencies involved in the Northwest Virginia Regional Drug and Gang Task Force for continuing to embrace the challenge.”
“The effect that heroin has had on our communities and families across the DMV has been devastating. The sentencing in this case, along with the help of local and federal agencies across the DMV, is to be commended for the impact it’s had on communities across Maryland, DC, and Virginia,” Special Agent in Charge Fong said today. “The DEA Washington Division is dedicated to continuing combatting this deadly problem for our area by taking dangerous criminals and organizations like this off our streets and combatting drug trafficking across our area.”
According to court documents, Hall-Andujar, who previously pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute heroin, was part of the “Chris” heroin distribution organization based out of Baltimore. Between summer 2015 and spring 2018, Hall-Andujar was responsible for distributing no less than 400 grams of heroin to individuals in Front Royal and Winchester.
Hall-Andujar obtained quantities of heroin ranging from 4 to 5 grams at a time, every other day, and sometimes up to 10 grams, from the “Chris” pipeline in Baltimore. Once the purchase was complete, Hall-Andujar returned to Front Royal and Winchester to use and redistribute the heroin he obtained.
The investigation of the case was conducted by the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Winchester Office, the Front Royal Office of the Virginia State Police Northwest Regional Drug and Gang Task Force, the Baltimore City Police Department, the Baltimore County Police Department, the Frederick, Maryland Sheriff’s Office, the Loudoun County, Virginia, Sheriff’s Office and the Howard County, Maryland, Sheriff’s Office. Assistant United States Attorney Ronald M. Huber prosecuted the case for the United States.
Local arrest made after purchasing pickup truck with fake check
On June 1, 2020, David S. Twigg Jr. was arrested for using several forged and one fake check to purchase a 2020 Ford F-250 Super Duty Pickup Truck from a local Auto Dealer. Information obtained as part of this investigation has implicated Twigg in similar scams in West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and other parts of Virginia. A record check of Twigg returned an active arrest warrant out of Norfolk Virginia for a larceny charge.
If you have information on this individual, please contact Investigator Jeremy Seabright at 540-635-4128.
Sunday night house fire ruled arson – occupant charged
On Sunday, May 31, 2020, at approximately 10:20 pm, the Warren County Department of Fire and Rescue Services was dispatched to 121 E. 14th Street, Front Royal, for a reported residential structure fire.
Fire, Rescue, and officers from the Front Royal Police Department arrived at the scene and observed an active fire in the basement with a significant amount of smoke coming from the doors and windows of the first floor. Firefighters initiated a rapid search of the residence and determined no one was trapped inside the home. The fire was quickly extinguished, however, the residence was rendered uninhabitable with an estimated $80,000 in damages. One of the occupants of the home has received assistance from the American Red Cross.
An investigation by the Warren County Fire Marshal’s Office determined the fire was caused by an act of arson and requested assistance by the Front Royal Police Department Criminal Investigations Division.
As a result of the investigation and consultation with the Warren County Commonwealth’s Attorney Office, Lauren T. Roberts, a 33-year-old Front Royal resident, has been charged in connection with the fire incident. Ms. Roberts has been charged with a single felony count of Virginia Code § 18.2-77 Burning or destroying a dwelling house. Roberts was transported to the Rappahannock, Shenandoah, Warren (RSW) Regional Jail where she was held without bond. The court date for this offense is on July 28, 2020, at 9 am in Warren County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court.
Anyone with additional information regarding this incident is asked to contact Fire Marshal G. Maiatico at 540-636-3830 or Detective M.R. Ramey with the Front Royal Police Department Criminal Investigations Division at 540-636-2208.
Linden resident strikes pedestrian with vehicle, charged with malicious wounding
In the evening hours of May 12, 2020, the Front Royal Police Department responded to the intersection of East Stonewall Drive and Bee Street for a report of a pedestrian struck by a vehicle. The victim, 54-year-old male, Dale Potter, was quickly located by first responding officers and transported by Warren County EMS personnel to Warren Memorial Hospital for initial treatment. Potter was then flown to Winchester Medical Center for treatment of serious but non-life-threatening injuries.
From the initial investigation, it was discovered the victim was intentionally struck by a passenger car driven by Avery Bailey because of a physical altercation in the minutes prior. Bailey, a 21-year-old Linden resident, fled the scene and abandoned the vehicle at an alternate location. The vehicle and Bailey were located shortly thereafter by FRPD with the assistance of the Warren County Sheriff’s Office.
Avery Bailey has been charged with malicious wounding (18.2-51) and was transported to Rappahannock Shenandoah Warren (RSW) Regional Jail where he is currently being held without bond. The court date for this offense is set for June 30, 2020, in Warren County General District Court.
This investigation is on-going and anyone with any further information is asked to contact Detective M.R. Ramey at (540) 636-2208 or by email at email@example.com.
Town Talk: A conversation with Captain Jeff Holzbauer and Lt. Robbie Seal; watch out for scams, counterfeit money
In this Town Talk, we’ll have a conversation with Captain Jeff Holzbauer and Lt. Robbie Seal from the Warren County Sheriff’s Office. Lt. Seal is the Community Resource Officer and Captain Holzbauer is in charge of the Patrol Division. The Warren County Sheriff’s Office Patrol Division has the primary law enforcement responsibilities of providing a wide range of services and to initiate a proactive approach when assisting the community.
Lt Seal brings us information on COVID-19 scams in our community. Captain Holzbauer ask for help from the community on two individuals wanted in connection with passing counterfeit money in the County.
The Sheriff’s Office is looking for the following individuals:
Cyrus Bartholomew Fiel, a 31 years old, white male, 5’10”, 160 lbs, red hair, green eyes. He has multiple warrants out for his arrest: Probation Violation, Dangerous Drugs, Forgery of US Currency.
- Wanted out of Strasburg Police Department for Dangerous Drugs
- Wanted out of Front Royal Police Department for a Probation Violation
- Wanted out of WCSO for Forgery of United States Currency
Fiel and other accomplices have allegedly been making counterfeit United States currency, $10, $20, $50, $100. Two arrests have been made in this case already and more charges are pending.
Lekeshian Jones, 33 years old, black female, 5’3″, 180-200 lbs. She is from the Trenton, NJ area. Jones has been identified as one of two females that passed $760 in counterfeit $20 at Walmart in Front Royal on April 11, 2020.
If you have any information, please contact Investigator J. Seabright firstname.lastname@example.org or call the mail number of the Sheriff’s Office (540) 635-4128
Town Talk is a series on the Royal Examiner where we will introduce you to local entrepreneurs, businesses, non-profit leaders, and political figures who influence Warren County. Topics will be varied but hopefully interesting. If you have an idea, topic, or want to hear from someone in our community, let us know. Send your request to news@RoyalExaminer.com
One vehicle accident downs power lines to Royal Village Wednesday afternoon
The power into Royal Village was interrupted early Wednesday evening as a result of a traffic incident. Town Director of Energy Services David Jenkins responded to Royal Examiner’s request for information on the situation early Thursday morning. Below is the full text of his reply:
“The Energy services department received an online submittal that the power was out in the W 11th St area. a crew was dispatched and upon arrival they found that a vehicle had struck a utility pole that feed’s directly from our Kendrick Lane substation and snapped it off. The crew than began to clear and isolate the primary wire and pole that was on the ground and then proceeded to get the power back on by transferring the loads to another circuit that feeds from our Manassas Avenue substation.
“The pole that was struck also had underground primary feeder attached to it as well. We called in our Public works department for a backhoe to dig up the damaged wire. A contractor for CenturyLink had to be called in to repair the phone lines.
“Power went off at 6:41 pm
“Power back on at 7:27 pm
“Number of customers affected 931”
Information gathered at the scene by Royal Examiner staff indicated the driver of the involved vehicle may have fled the scene on foot.
By late morning Thursday, Front Royal Police Captain Crystal Cline confirmed the arrest of Artavia Michelle Price-Bey for DUI, Property Damage over $1000, and Failure to Maintain Car Insurance, regarding the incident. Price-Bey was transported to RSW Regional Jail and booked into the facility at 9:26 p.m. Wednesday evening. She was released Thursday morning at 11:52 a.m.