CHARDON, Ohio — Closing arguments concluded shortly before 10:30 a.m. Monday in the decades-old "Geauga's Child" case. The jury has also been given their instructions as deliberations begin.
RELATED: Jury finds Gail Eastwood-Ritchey guilty of murder, not guilty of aggravated murder in decades-old ‘Geauga’s Child’ case
The situation dates back to March 25, 1993, when a baby boy’s body was found in a trash bag along Sidley Road. The case remained cold for years until Gail Eastwood-Ritchey of Euclid was arrested in June of 2019. Authorities say she was identified through familial DNA that was matched to that of “Geauga’s Child.”
Eastwood-Ritchey has been charged with aggravated murder and murder in the case.
What follows are updates throughout the trial... WARNING: Videos below contain graphic content. Viewer discretion is advised.
APRIL 4, 2022 | Day 4: Closing arguments. We streamed closing arguments live in the player below:
Isabel Lawrence covered the Day 4 proceedings
Closing arguments began shortly after 8:30 a.m. and were complete within approximately two hours. A big focus of the closing arguments had to do with whether the baby was born alive, or was a stillbirth.
The state argued that the baby was born alive and that Eastwood-Ritchey knew that when she put him in a garbage bag and drove to the woods. They also argued that in getting the garbage bag to put the baby in, there was a plan in place, showing prior calculation.
“A new born 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. Didn’t even bury him. And again, listening to her interview, barely gave it a thought for 26 years," said Geauga County Assistant Prosecutor Nicholas Burling.
However, the defense argued that Eastwood-Ritchey didn't see the baby move or hear it make a sound. That it was in fact a stillbirth, meaning she did not kill the baby.
“She never indicates that she saw the baby move or heard the baby make a sound in fact, just the opposite," said defense attorney Steven Bradley. "That she didn’t see the baby move, that she didn’t hear the baby make a sound. And all of that would be evidence consistent with the fact this was not a live birth, this is in fact a stillbirth. The state has no, as in zero, reliable evidence, underscore reliable, zero, to point to the fact that this was a live birth. Let alone sufficient evidence to get them over the threshold of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.”
APRIL 2, 2022 | Day 3: Testimony wrapped up around 2 p.m. Closing arguments are set for Monday.
3News' Emma Henderson monitored day three proceedings for this report:
The defense rested without Gail Eastwood-Ritchey taking the stand. Instead, today's proceedings centered around Montgomery County Coroner Kent Harshbarger, who testified on behalf of the defense. Harshbarger challenged the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner's assertions that "Geauga's Child" was born alive and breathing before being placed in a plastic bag along Sidley Road.
"In my opinion, you cannot make that determination to a reasonable degree of medical certainty," Harshbarger said.
His testimony stated that the body of the infant child was too decomposed and missing vital organs, therefore proving the boy ever took a breath isn't possible.
"There's just not a lot of information on top of post-mortem changes that have occurred which prevent reliability from microscopic evaluation," he added.
This differs from the prosecution's claims. Their expert believes the child found discarded in that bag was very much alive when born.
"These lungs breathed," the rebuttal witness said. "That's why it was a live birth that, had given the opportunity, may have lived a full life."
APRIL 1, 2022 | Day 2: The hearing wrapped up around 11:30 a.m. Trial to resume at 8:30 a.m. Saturday.
3News' Sara Shookman monitored day two proceedings for this report:
Day two of testimony began with the state’s witness, Detective Donald Seamon, with the Geauga County Sheriff’s Office.
Detective Seamon testified he had long been familiar with the case and had investigated other tips and leads unsuccessfully. But in 2018, he started digging into the case, using advancements with DNA and technology as new investigative tools.
DNA initially retrieved from a tooth bud from the infant’s remains was able to be used as a sample for comparison with public genealogy database, GEDmatch. The initial closest match was a third or fourth generation cousin. Over a period of six to eight months, Seamon said detectives used public records to build a database of more than 1,400 people.
Investigators contacted select family members, asking them to submit their DNA to the public database.
“We were able to take that 1,400 family tree, that ocean, and turn it into a pond,” said Detective Seamon on the stand. “Essentially, we knew that the child was a grandchild of one of 10 siblings at the end of the investigation.”
In May of 2019, detectives made contact with Harvey and Nancy Eastwood in Lyndhurst, who they believed to be those grandparents, and took DNA samples from them. While they waited two weeks for those results, they were also able to connect Mark Ritchey to the infant.
On May 21, 2019, detectives served search warrants, requested the DNA of Gail Eastwood-Ritchey, Mark Ritchey and her sister.
Jurors then watched the initial interview with Eastwood-Ritchey at the Geauga County’s Sheriff’s Office.
During the interview, Eastwood-Ritchey said it was the first time she’s ever spoken to anyone about the child. She said she was sexually active with her boyfriend at the time. She realized maybe three months before giving birth that she was pregnant, but never sought care.
“The next thing I knew I was giving birth to a baby in the toilet. I didn’t know what to do,” she said.
She said she was at home in Shaker Heights at the time, where she was a full-time nanny.
“No one else was home at the time,” she said on the tape.
When asked if the baby was born alive, she said, “I don’t remember. I don’t remember it ever crying. It’s possible. I don’t remember...I don’t recall it moving.”
She said during the interview, “I don’t know if I ever had a plan or what I was going to do. I don’t remember.”
She admitted to placing the baby in a garbage bag from under the sink, and placing it in her car. Then, some time later, leaving the bag in a wooded area near Koinonia Camp, where she was serving as a chaperone for a weekend church retreat.
Eastwood-Ritchey said in the interview she didn’t realize the baby had ever been found until her parents were contacted by investigators in May 2019. She never saw any news coverage of Geauga’s Child.
She told investigators she never told anyone about the baby, including her boyfriend, Mark, out of fear.
“I was scared to what my father would think. And I was scared just because [Mark and I] weren’t married,” she said.
She and Mark moved into together in September of 1993, and were married Oct. 1, 1994. The couple went on to have three children. The couple remained active in their faith, and in fact, two of those children went on to work at Koinonia Camp, a place Eastwood-Ritchey said she continued to visit.
She said she never thought highly of herself. She also admitted to being suicidal in May 2019 when investigators reached out to the family.
“Ultimately didn’t want to do it because my kids would probably end up finding me,” she told investigators during the interview.
Detective Seamon said while DNA confirmed her connection to the child and the evidence in the garbage bag, investigators were not able to confirm 26 years later that the child was born in the Shaker Heights home, or where the bag was first left by Ritchey.
The state rested its case Friday just before noon. The defense is expected to present its case when court resumes Saturday morning.
MARCH 31, 2022 | Day 1: Opening statements. Watch a portion of the opening statements (Warning: Video contains graphic content)
3News Sara Shookman reports: Defense attorney Steven Bradley in his opening statement disputed a Cuyahoga County coroner's conclusion the baby was born alive and was breathing when the then 22-year-old Eastwood gave birth in the bathroom of a Shaker Heights home where she worked as a nanny.
PREVIOUS COVERAGE OF THE CASE:
- RELATED: Mom charged in death of 'Geauga's Child' wants trial moved
- RELATED: Woman charged in 'Geauga's Child' cold case pleads not guilty, posts bail
- RELATED: 'Geauga's Child' deputy on woman indicted in cold case: 'I hope to make her pay'
- RELATED: Woman indicted in 'Geauga’s Child' cold case from 1993, may have also been involved in 'similar' crime
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