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An Ohio woman was convicted of murder on Monday nearly 30 years after her newborn baby boy was found on the side of the road in a garbage bag by newspaper carriers.
Geauga County jurors deliberated for about five hours before finding Gail Eastwood-Ritchey, 51, guilty of murder. They found her not guilty of aggravated murder.
The judge revoked her bond, and she was handcuffed and taken into custody after the verdict. No sentencing date has been scheduled.
Prosecutors said Eastwood-Richey dumped the baby in the woods off Sidley Road in Thompson Township — about 45 miles northeast of Cleveland — 29 years ago. The umbilical cord was still attached. Animals mutilated the body and pulled it to the side of the road, according to multiple media reports.
The baby's body was discovered on March 25, 1993, about a month after it had been born.
The devastated community paid for the funeral and a headstone that’s marked “Geauga’s Child.”
The headstone reads: “Geauga’s Child lies here now in safety – just too late. Too late to save his life. Too late to make things right. But not too late to teach us all to love and cherish life.”
Investigators submitted DNA from the baby to a public genealogical website, which resulted in a family tree of 1,400 relatives.
WKYC reported that Vernon Holden submitted his father-in-law’s DNA to GED Match, which led authorities to Eastwood-Ritchey. She was arrested in June 2019. The trial was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
"It's my wife's third cousin, that's Gail Eastwood-Ritchey," Holden told the station. "There's a little remorse there that it's a family member, and a remote one at that. But if you take away that, I'm very pleased and happy that I was able to do that for the community."
The Cuyahoga County coroner ruled that the baby was alive and breathing when Eastwood-Ritchey delivered it in the home where she worked as a nanny at the time, according to Associated Press.
Her defense attorney Steven Bradley disagreed: He said Eastwood-Richey didn’t even realize that she was pregnant.
He said she put the baby in a garbage bag and left it in the woods while traveling to a weekend retreat with a church group.
“She was isolated and alone,” Bradley said according to AP. “There was no one to confide with. She was alone with a group of people in her world that never saw her as pregnant. Neither did Gail.”
He said he was “frankly shocked and surprised” by the verdict, according to AP.
Prosecutors said that Eastwood-Ritchey was aware of her pregnancy three months before the delivery, which proved intent.
“A newborn baby boy was born to this woman, and she literally treated him like a piece of garbage. She birthed him, threw him in a garbage bag, tied him up, suffocating him, then tossed him in the woods," Geauga County Assistant Prosecutor Nicholas Burling said according to WKYC. “Didn’t even bury him. And again, listening to her interview, barely gave it a thought for 26 years."
Eastwood-Ritchey later married the baby’s father, and the pair now has three adult children, according to AP. She allegedly told police after her arrest that she'd similarly disposed of another infant's body two years prior to the infant's murder for which she's now been convicted.
Geauga County Sheriff Scott Hildenbrand told WEWS that he’s pleased that justice has been served after working on the case for nearly 30 years.
"I was, in fact, one of the first ones on the scene that day. It's just very rewarding to see that justice has been served," he said. "We are not going to give up. We have cases like this. We have great people who are going to investigate them to the conclusion."
He continued: "Just the fact she got arrested that was closure. At that point, we found out who the baby's mother was, and we were bringing her to justice and this [guilty verdict] just ends this because she did a horrible thing."
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