Strattanville man found guilty of area burglaries|
Thursday, June 28, 2012
By Jeff Corcino Staff Writer
A man accused of burglarizing the Bradford Township Municipal Building and three businesses was found guilty of all charges yesterday at Clearfield County Courthouse.
Jerry L. Ritchey Jr., 37, of Strattanville was convicted of four counts of burglary, four counts of criminal trespass, two counts of theft by unlawful taking and two counts of criminal mischief.
Ritchey was convicted of burglarizing 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 on the night/early morning of July 20-21.
Ritchey ransacked all four locations but took only cash, approximately $760 from the Bradford Township Building and about $50 from Apex Hydraulics. The other two businesses did not keep cash at those locations and nothing else was taken.
It took the jury of eight women and four men approximately 40 minutes to reach its verdict.
Ritchey had been a suspect in a string of commercial burglaries in central and western Pennsylvania and the state police had a GPS tracking device secretly installed on his car while he was away on his honeymoon in early July.
On the night of the burglaries, the state police were monitoring Ritchey's movements using the GPS tracking device and undercover agents in the field.
Although the police did not witness Ritchey burglarizing the four locations, they did determine his vehicle was parked for extended periods of time near the locations of the four burglaries, and one state trooper Michael Boltz testified he saw Ritchey driving the vehicle, once while he was watching him from the parking lot of the Bigler Minit Mart and once when Ritchey exited the vehicle after he returned to his home in Strattanville.
Surveillance video footage at the Sheetz stores in Brookville and Clarion recorded earlier in the evening on July 20 also showed Ritchey driving the tracked vehicle.
The commonwealth also presented video surveillance from the Walmart in Clarion of Ritchey purchasing water shoes that had the same tread pattern as footprints found at all four crime scenes.
During his closing, Ritchey's attorney Joe Ryan argued that the commonwealth did not reach the legal burden that Ritchey was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
"There are problems with the commonwealth's case," Ryan said.
Ryan said he is not going to dispute the GPS evidence or the video surveillance evidence that his client was driving the car that evening and was in the area, but said there could have been somebody else in the vehicle with Ritchey who committed the burglaries. He also disputed the truthfulness of Tpr. Boltz's testimony that Ritchey was the only person in the vehicle.
He said Walmart sells water shoes at multiple locations in the state and just because his client had purchased a pair of similar shoes, does not mean he did it.
Ryan said the police have no evidence to verify that the footprints were made by his client saying the police did not bother to analyze whether the footprints were the same shoe size of his client.
He also said the state police failed to have tools found at his client's home analyzed to see whether they were the tools that were used to break into the establishments.
"Maybe isn't enough," Ryan said.
However, in his closing, Clearfield County District Attorney William Shaw Jr. defended the work of the state police saying they did a "bang-up job."
Shaw said the state police collected a "mountain of evidence" against Ritchey and said although Walmart could have sold millions of those pairs of water shoes, he asked how many of those people who bought those water shoes were being tracked by the state police and were known to have parked their vehicles near all four locations at the same time they were being burglarized.
"Only one, Jerry Lee Ritchey Jr.," Shaw said.
Shaw also said Ritchey was very meticulous in his craft, and only took cash while leaving expensive items behind because cash is not traceable.
On the night of the burglaries, he said Ritchey repeatedly turned around or made abrupt turns to "clear his tail," in case someone was following him.
Following the verdict, Shaw said he was very pleased with how the investigation and trial went noting it was a team effort involving multiple county district attorney offices, the state police and multiple municipal police departments.
"It goes to show that when law enforcement works together, criminals don't stand a chance," Shaw said.
According to Shaw, each burglary charge carries a sentence of six months to 10 years in prison so Ritchey theoretically is facing anywhere from six months to 40 years in prison.
Shaw said Ritchey is also facing multiple burglary charges in Venango and Clarion counties.
Ritchey is scheduled to go on trial in Clearfield County 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, his current wife and his ex-wife's boyfriend.