Man on trial for burglarizing area businesses |
Tuesday, June 26, 2012
By Jeff Corcino Staff Writer
Jerry L. Ritchey's first trial got under way yesterday at the Clearfield County Courthouse before President Judge Frederic J. Ammerman. Ritchey, 37 of Strattanville is accused of burglarizing four locations on the night of July 20-21, including Bradford Township Municipal Building, Apex Hydraulics & Machine of Decatur Township, D.C. Enterprises of Decatur Township, and T.L. Bainey Trucking of West Decatur, Bradford Township.
Ritchey is charged with burglary, four counts; criminal trespass, four counts; theft by unlawful taking, two counts and criminal mischief, two counts
Ritchey is also scheduled to go on trial in August on four counts of criminal solicitation-murder. While he was incarcerated in the Clearfield County Jail on the burglary charges Ritchey is accused of trying to get his cellmate to murder his ex-wife, girlfriend and his ex-wife's boyfriend.
In his opening statement, Clearfield County District Attorney William A. Shaw Jr., argued that in the spring of last year, the state police began to suspect Ritchey in a series of burglaries in central and Western Pennsylvania and received a warrant from Allegheny County Court to place a GPS tracking device on Ritchey's car while it was parked at Pittsburgh International Airport. The state police learned his vehicle was there because he flew out of the airport for his honeymoon.
On the night of July 20-21, Ritchey then used the vehicle to drive from his home in Strattanville to Clearfield County, parked his vehicle in close proximity to the locations that were burglarized before returning home. Footprints found at the scene match the beach shoes/water shoes Ritchey purchased at Walmart in Clarion and glove prints at the scene match the gloves he purchased at Sheetz.
Shaw said Ritchey was only interested in cash when he burglarized these locations and left other expensive items behind.
However, Ritchey's attorney Joe Ryan argued that the commonwealth's case is largely circumstantial and has no evidence that shows his client had entered those buildings and said Ritchey wasn't the only person to buy that type of shoes at Wal-Mart.
The commonwealth's first witness was Donald Conklin of Osceola Mills, the owner of D.C. Enterprises. He testified on July 20, he locked up his business as usual and went home. However, at about 1 a.m. on July 21, he was notified by phone that the alarm went off at his business. When he arrived there at about 1:30 a.m. the police had already arrived and had a spotlight shining on the front of his building.
He said the perpetrator gained access to the building by removing a bottom panel from the garage door and just inside the building near the removed panel there was a footprint with a star pattern tread.
Conklin testified that all his employees wear steel-toed boots and none have the same pattern of tread as the footprint.
The perpetrator then ransacked the building and scattered items throughout the building but Conklin said he does not know if anything was stolen.
Conklin said they fixed the panel in-house and estimated the damages at about $100.
During cross-examination, when asked by Ryan if customers had access to the garage, Conklin said, no, he does not allow customers to come into the garage because that is where he keeps his tools.
Adrian Powell, owner of Apex Hydraulics & Machine, testified on July 20, he locked up his business between 6-6:30 p.m. and went home. The next morning when he arrived the front door of the office building was wide open. Inside were two of his employees who informed him that the building had been broken into.
Powell said the kitchen area was flooded because the perpetrator removed the drain pipe from underneath the sink and turned on the water causing it to flow all over the floor, causing extensive water damage.
Powell said the perpetrator gained access to the building by prying open the back door.
Powell said office was also ransacked and said all contents of his filing cabinet and desk were removed and thrown onto the floor and he said money kept in a box as petty cash had also been removed. Powell said he was not sure how much money was in the box but said it was less than $50.
"It was a hell of a mess," Powell said.
Powell said they also found a footprint with a star pattern tread on one of the papers lying on the floor.
Powell said all his employees wear steel-toed shoes at work and do not have that pattern of tread.
Powell estimated total damages at $2,700 including $1,500 to fix the floor, and $700 to replace the door.
During cross-examination, Ryan asked if he knew what kind of shoes his employees wore when they were not at work, Powell said he did not.
Timothy Bainey owner of T.L. Bainey Trucking testified on July 20 he locked up his business and went home between 5 and 7 p.m.
However on July 21 he received a call from the state police that his business had been broken into. He said the back door had been pried open and he place was ransacked and stuff was scattered all over.
He said the perpetrator then used a pry bar located in his garage to pry open a door leading to his office and ransacked the office but nothing was taken.
A ladder that was in the garage area was moved to gain access to an upstairs office window. He said that office too was ransacked but nothing was taken.
To exit the upstairs office, the perpetrator moved the desk chair over to the window to climb out of it and back onto the ladder and said there was a footprint with a star-shaped tread on the seat of the chair.
There were similar footprints outside of the building was well.
Bainey said he has some expensive tools in the garage but said none of them were taken.
Bradford Township officials, Charles Read, supervisor/roadmaster, Christine Amon, tax collector and Linda Wooster, secretary were also called to the stand.
They gave similar accounts saying the municipal building was locked up on July 20 when it closed at 4:30 p.m. and learned the next morning when they arrived for work that the building had been burglarized.
Read said the perpetrator gained access by prying open the rear door to the garage.
The perpetrator ransacked the offices and removed $755 in cash from the tax office and $7 in petty cash was stolen from the township office.
Footprints with a star pattern were also found on papers that had been scattered on the floor.
Trooper Michael Taylor, with the electronic surveillance unit of the state police testified he and a colleague placed the GPS tracking device on Ritchey's vehicle in early July of 2011 after receiving permission from Allegheny County Court.
He said they tested the device to make sure it was working properly before departing. Taylor then gave a detailed testimony on the capabilities of the GPS tracking device. According to Taylor, the tracking device uses GPS technology to continually track the movements of the vehicle and stores it in the tracking device's internal memory. He said the GPS device has an accuracy of about 5 meters.
It was also set up to e-mail all the data containing the vehicle's movements to investigators every day at 9 a.m. using a cellular communication device installed on the device.
Police can track the movements of the vehicle in real time using the cellular communications as long as the vehicle is in an area with cellular service.
The device also has a motion detector that uses a gyroscope that detects when the vehicle stops and starts.
He said this allows the device to save battery power; when there is no motion for an extended period of time, it will go into sleep mode but as soon as it detects motion, it will power up again and begin tracking.
Trooper Mark Rohrbaugh, an investigator with the criminal intelligence unit, was the last to testify yesterday.
Rohrbaugh testified he would receive the daily e-mails from the GPS tracking device. On the morning of July 21, a supervisor informed him that Ritchey had been moving the night before and there was at least one confirmed burglary in the area where Ritchey was and asked him to analyze the data as soon as possible.
Using a monitor and a laptop, Rohrbaugh showed the jury, the movements of Ritchey's vehicle the night of July 20-21.
According to Rohrbaugh, Ritchey left Oil City on July 20 at 7:58 p.m. and arrived at his residence in Strattanville at 8:42 p.m. He left his residence at 9:33 p.m. drove to the Clarion Sheetz, then to the Brookville Sheetz, and stopped each time for approximately five minutes.
He then drove to Clearfield, stopped briefly on Spruce Street near where the Lawrence Township police station formerly was located. He then drove onto U.S. 322 east toward Philipsburg. Rohrbaugh said Ritchey looped back and forth on U.S. 322, turning around several times, and going back the same way he came.
Shaw said in his opening statement Ritchey did this to make sure no one was following him.
Rohrbaugh testified Ritchey's vehicle was stationary for extended periods of time at locations near where the burglaries occurred.
It was stationary from 11:28 p.m. to 2:05 a.m. on Geo Drive in Philipsburg near D.C Enterprises and Apex Hydraulic & Machine, and from 2:43 a.m. to 3:37 a.m. it was stationary along U.S. 322 near Bainey Trucking, and from 4:07 a.m. to 4:49 a.m. it was stationary along Barrett Road in Woodland near the Bradford Municipal Building.
The trial is scheduled to last through Thursday.