After four hours of pre-sentencing testimony and arguments on Friday afternoon, Chad Ritchie was ordered to serve 20 years of a 55-year sentence imposed by Warren County Circuit Court Judge Clifford L. “Clay” Athey in the death of one, and beating of a second 22-month-old twin child in November 2017.
Ritchie, 28 at the time of his November 2017 arrest, entered Alford guilty pleas on the second day of his December 2018 trial on four charges stemming from the death of 22-month-old toddler Malachi Zimmerman and for non-fatal injuries inflicted to Malachi’s twin brother Micah on November 8, 2017. Ritchie was watching the children of his then girlfriend Tabitha Zimmerman at Zimmerman’s parents’ home where they shared a residence, while Zimmerman was on night-shift at Rubbermaid where both she and Ritchie worked and had met.
Following his choice to enter Alford guilty pleas to a charge of second degree murder in the death of Malachi; malicious wounding of Micah; and one count of endangerment of each child, Ritchie faced guidelines ranging from 15 years of actual incarceration on the low end to a high end of 20 years in prison, with a mid-range of 17 years. In an Alford plea a defendant admits the prosecution has enough evidence to convict without admitting guilt.
Asked by the judge if he had anything to say prior to sentencing, Ritchie hesitated before quietly saying, “No.”
The defense contended the cause of Malachi’s death was not being struck by Ritchie, but rather by a large and panicking man incorrectly administering CPR (Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation) when he discovered Malachi unconscious and unresponsive in a bedroom where he left him to prepare a bath for the child after his earlier admitted striking of the children.
During Friday’s sentencing hearing defense attorney Jason Ransom reiterated his trial contention that the 6-foot-plus, 220-pound Ritchie had administered CPR as one would to an adult, with two hands and two arms thrusting fully at the abdomen of the child. 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:
However, Layton countered that Ritchie claimed to be and apparently was certified in the administration of CPR – and that someone certified in CPR would not have made such a mistake.
“He was trained … he should have done better but he was freaking out,” Ransom told the court of the adult level of force he contended his client used in trying to revive a 22-month-old child.
At trial in December and again during the March 22 sentencing hearing the defense attempted to portray Ritchie as a loving father figure to the children who had one terrible lapse of anger management leading to an uncharacteristic outburst of physical violence against the twins.
“That particular day a parent (figure) who because he was overwhelmed … he lost his cool – when someone that size loses it, this is where we are. That child is gone forever and when Mr. Ritchie gets out of prison he will have to live with that,” defense counsel Ransom told the court.
“This has crushed him; this has crushed his spirit … what he did was wrong and he’s got to pay for it – the question is how hard,” Ransom asked. “I don’t think the court needs to teach him not to do this again. We would agree to 20 years if it repeatedly happened. But I think this was a one-time occurrence. This was the worst day in everyone in this family’s life. We ask for 15 to 17 years,” Ransom concluded in seeking a lower to mid-range time of incarceration.
However, Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Layton countered that the court should weigh the impacts on the real victims, Malachi and Micah, their mother and grandparents, rather than how Ritchie might be impacted by a few additional years behind bars.
As to Ransom’s question on how harsh a sentence his client should receive, for maternal grandmother Rosemary Zimmerman, who with husband Daniel is raising the surviving twin pending resolution of related charges against their daughter, the answer was harsh. In the day’s most emotional testimony Rosemary Zimmerman described the impact on the family.
“I was the last one to see him (Malachi) when he was carried up to the ambulance. You could tell he was dead. He was way past the color for normal … it happened in our house … they thought we were involved in this sickness,” she told the court, voice rising, starting to cry.
“The guy admitted he killed the baby and we’re suffering for it. I can’t see my daughter; and the kids (Micah and a half sister) can’t see her because of a court order against her … Malachi was dead before he got CPR,” his grandmother told the court.
Then turning toward Ritchie at the defense table, voice rising, Rosemary Zimmerman yelled, “You killed him!!! Give him the max; I don’t even know what it is at this point.”
Mitigation witnesses for the defense included Ritchie’s parents, siblings and friends who all described the defendant as good around children, including the twins from their experience. They also referenced Facebook photos appearing to indicate a positive relationship between Ritchie and the twins posted prior to the tragedy.
However, prosecutor Layton pointed to evidence, including the defendant’s own verbal and written interviews with authorities in the wake of Malachi’s death and his brother Micah’s treatment for injuries at the hospital the night of November 8, 2017.
“He was so upset the kids weren’t behaving the way he wanted them to that he took cigarette breaks to try and calm down,” Layton told the court. He pointed to the defendant’s description of events indicating that Malachi had lain down and cried for 10 minutes after being struck by Ritchie one of the earlier of three times the defendant admitted to hitting the child. Upset by that continuous crying, Ritchie returned to again strike the child, choking and body slamming him, Layton said, “Then he stopped crying – how hard to you have to hit a child to stop him from crying like that,” Layton asked the court.
“He (Ritchie) tried to minimize it from the outset,” Layton said of the defendant’s portrayal of events. “The defense says he was panicking. But look at the text he sent Tabitha Zimmerman – what does he tell her, ‘Get your ass home – we have a problem.’
“A dead child is not a problem; a dead child is a tragedy. He deserves far more than 20 years,” Layton told the court of the sentencing guidelines.
Noting the defendant’s age, Judge Athey observed that unlike Malachi Zimmerman “Mr. Ritchie will get a second chance” when he is released around age 50.
Following his sentencing of Ritchie, Athey set Monday for a pre-trial hearing on charges the twins’ mother faces related to the case. A three-day trial has been set for April 8-10 for Tabitha Zimmerman, 29, on two counts of cruelty and injuries to children revolving around the prosecution theory that the violence of November 8, 2017, was a culmination of a pattern of abuse by Ritchie that the mother was aware of and allowed to continue.
Her attorney John Bell was a spectator at both Ritchie’s trial of December 10-11 and Friday’s sentencing hearing. Bell agrees with the Ritchie defense team on one aspect of the case, that older bruises found on the twins were a result of the toddler’s active lifestyle, horseplay and rough housing with each other, rather than a long-term pattern of physical abuse by Ritchie, at least any pattern of behavior the children’s mother was aware of.
Deputies rescue suspected impaired driver from pond after crash
At approximately 11am today, the Frederick County Emergency Communications Center received a 9-1-1 call stating that a SUV had driven off the roadway and into a pond in the area of Papermill Rd. and Harrsion Ln. The caller stated the driver was still in the vehicle and was not moving.
Deputies arriving first on the scene observed the vehicle, partially submerged in the water up to it’s hood, and could see the driver slumped over the wheel. Deputy Jason Hawse and Deputy Nick Dempsey removed their outer vests and gun belts and entered the frigid water to assist the unconscious subject. With outside temps of 27 degrees, and windchill making it feel more like 13 degrees, Hawse and Dempsey worked quickly, in the chest-high water, breaking the windows on the vehicle and pulling the subject out. Once getting the male driver to land, one dose of Narcan was administered and the subject regained consciousness a few moments later.
The driver, identified as Michael Surgent, 35, of Mechanicsville, Va. was immediately attended to by deputies awaiting EMTs to medically evaluate him for exposure. Based on witness statements, and evidence recovered later from the vehicle, it is believed that Surgent was “huffing” chemicals from aerosol cans resulting in his losing consciousness, and proper control of his vehicle. Surgent was taken to Winchester Medical Center and held for further medical evaluations. He has been charged with huffing chemicals, reckless driving and driving under the influence.
All deputies were checked on scene and cleared for duty, once out of their wet uniforms and warmed back up. Sheriff Lenny Millholland is both pleased with, and proud of, the swift and selfless actions taken by his personnel, saying “This could have been much worse and we are thankful that no one was seriously injured in this incident”.
Winchester man facing multiple charges after pursuit
A Winchester man is behind bars on multiple charges after he fled law enforcement Thursday (Jan. 19).
Virginia State Police have charged John P. Scaperotto, 44, in Frederick County, with two felony counts of possession of a schedule I/II drug, one felony count of eluding law enforcement, one felony count of assault on law enforcement, one misdemeanor count of reckless driving, one misdemeanor count of driving on a revoked license, one misdemeanor count of fictitious vehicle registration, one misdemeanor count of operating an uninsured vehicle, and one misdemeanor count of littering.
Scaperotto was also charged with several traffic infractions, including speeding, failure to stop at a stop sign, failure to stop at a red light, and failure to wear a seatbelt. He was also wanted out of Frederick County for failure to appear in court.
State Police initiated the traffic stop at approximately 8:10 a.m., as a Chevrolet pick-up truck was traveling south on Route 37 in Frederick County. The violation was for speeding – as the Chevrolet was driving 80 mph in a posted 65 mph zone. The Chevrolet refused to stop, and a pursuit was initiated.
The pursuit continued onto Route 50 and Route 522 before continuing back onto Route 37, where Chevrolet crossed the median and entered the southbound travel lanes traveling north. As the Chevrolet crossed back into the median, it attempted again to go in the wrong direction.
A state trooper struck the Chevrolet with his patrol car in an attempt to stop it from going in the wrong direction. The Chevrolet continued northbound, traveling in the right direction, where it eventually ran off the left side of the roadway into the median and collided with a guardrail. The driver, Scaperotto, was taken into custody and transported to the Northwestern Regional Adult Detention Center, where he was held without bond.
One trooper suffered minor injuries during the course of the pursuit.
The pursuit reached speeds of up to 100 mph.
Traffic stop by WCSO results in drug arrests and significant property seizure
On January 5, 2023, at 08:18 PM, Warren County Sheriff’s Office Deputy T. Poe conducted a traffic stop on a white 1999 Mercury passenger vehicle at the intersection of Winchester Road and Riverton Road. The vehicle was stopped for making an illegal left turn from Strasburg Road onto Route 522.
A subsequent search of the vehicle and its occupants revealed a bag containing approximately 22 grams of white powdery substance purported to be crack cocaine, nine small rocks of suspected cocaine, several drug paraphernalia, smoking devices, and $16,398 in United States Currency.
The vehicle, currency, and drugs were seized pursuant to the arrests of the occupants. The driver, Arthur L. Summers (age 62) of Front Royal, and his passenger Melissa P. Myers (age 58) of Arlington, Virginia, were arrested and charged with possession with intent to deliver (PWID) crack cocaine (§18.2-248 of Code of Virginia) and possession of drug paraphernalia (§18.2-251).
Baltimore, MD resident arrested after investigation by the Blue Ridge Narcotics and Gang Task Force
The Blue Ridge Narcotics and Gang Task Force has concluded a two-month-long investigation with the arrest of a Baltimore, MD, resident.
The investigation led the Blue Ridge Narcotics and Gang Task Force officers to Prince William County, where they arrested Reginald L. Morgan, 56, on Friday (Jan. 13, 2023). He was taken into custody without incident in the 14400 block of Lee Highway in Gainesville. At the time of his arrest, Morgan had 2.5 ounces of powder cocaine and 4.5 ounces of crack cocaine in his possession. The drugs seized have an estimated street value of $17,500.
Throughout the investigation, Morgan had been identified as a significant supplier of cocaine to the Culpeper area.
Morgan was charged with one felony count of distribution of Schedule I/II drug (3rd or subsequent offense) and one felony count of transporting Schedule I/II drug into the Commonwealth with the intent to sell or distribute. Morgan was transported to the Prince William County Adult Detention Center, where he was held without bond.
The Blue Ridge Narcotics and Gang Task Force comprises law enforcement personnel from the Culpeper, Fauquier, Orange, Madison, and Rappahannock Sheriff’s Offices, Culpeper, Warrenton, Orange Police Departments, and the Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation, Culpeper Field Office.
Frederick County Sheriff’s Office charge local business owner with possession of child pornography
The owner/operator of the Winchester Skating and Family Fun Center, located at 1629 Berryville Pike in Winchester, was arrested on January 13th on two counts of possession of child pornography and Driving Under the Influence.
Multiple allegations of taking indecent liberties with a minor were made against Edgar Jackson by several former female employees of the business.
The victims, all juveniles at the time of the alleged offenses, are adults and came forward wishing to have the matter looked into. The Criminal Investigations Division (CID) of the sheriff’s office interviewed the victims and, based on the information obtained, executed a search warrant at the business on January 10th.
Items of evidentiary value were seized, including electronic devices that were forensically examined and found to contain photographs of child pornography. Based on these initial findings, investigators obtained two warrants for possession of child pornography and placed a lookout for Jackson for arrest.
Friday afternoon, Jackson was located by sheriff’s office deputies behind the wheel of a Chrysler 300 passenger car on Martinsburg Pike (Route 11 North) at the I-81 interchange, where a traffic stop was executed. Jackson was transporting a 16-year-old male at the time and was found to have a blood alcohol content above the .08 legal limit. Jackson was arrested for DUI and transported to the regional adult detention center on that violation and for service of the two outstanding warrants. At the time of this release, Jackson was being held without bond.
Preliminary investigations indicate these offenses and allegations have been limited to juvenile employees of the business, and future charges are pending. Anyone with additional information pertaining to this ongoing investigation is requested to contact Frederick County Sheriff’s Office CID at 540-504-6577.
Bristol man sentenced to 20 years in prison for meth and firearms convictions
A Bristol, Virginia man was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison for possessing with the intent to distribute crystal ice methamphetamine and for illegal possession of a firearm.
William Everett Himes, 38, was convicted after pleading guilty in June 2021 to one count of possessing with the intent to distribute 50 grams or more of crystal ice methamphetamine and one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm.
According to court documents, the charges stem from a Washington County, Virginia, Sheriff’s Office traffic stop in January 2020, where Himes fled from police and was later found to be in possession of crystal ice methamphetamine. A loaded .45 caliber firearm and more crystal ice methamphetamine were recovered from the front passenger seat of Himes’ vehicle. During Himes’ arrest, he was prohibited from possessing a firearm due to prior felony drug and violent crime convictions, including two 2012 felony convictions in Bristol, Virginia, related to methamphetamine.
United States Attorney Christopher R. Kavanaugh, Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares, and Jarod Forget, Special Agent in Charge of the DEA’s Washington Division, made the announcement.
This case was investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms.
Special Assistant United States Attorney M. Suzanne Kerney-Quillen, a Virginia Senior Assistant Attorney General assigned to the Attorney General’s Major Crimes and Emerging Threats Section, prosecuted the case for the United States.