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Opening statements begin in ‘Geauga’s Child’ murder case

The trial comes nearly three years after the suspect, Gail Eastwood-Ritchey, was arrested.

CHARDON, Ohio — Opening statements began Thursday morning in the decades-old murder case known as “Geauga’s Child.” Jury selection started earlier this week. You can watch the beginning of the trial in the video below.

The case 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.”

Officials say she was the mother of the baby boy, and allegedly admitted to placing the child in a trash bag and leaving him in a wooded area shortly after giving birth.

Now, nearly 30 years later, the baby's gravestone remains marked as “Geauga’s Child."

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.

Bradley said the assistant coroner, who is now deceased, concluded the child was born alive based on three microscope slides of lung tissue that he said showed the infant had drawn a breath. The three slides show tiny sacs in the lung called alveoli had inflated, which Bradley said could have been caused by decomposition of the body.

Ritchey never told anyone she was pregnant, Bradley said, and did not realize when she sat down on a toilet at her employers' home that she was about to give birth. 

“She was isolated and alone," Bradley said. “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.”

While Ritchey realized in the fall of 1992 she was pregnant, and confirmed the news with a pregnancy test, she never sought prenatal care or had any idea when she might be due. In late February 1993, she was working as a nanny at the family’s home in Shaker Heights.

“She had no idea she was giving birth. She felt the need to push once she sat down,” said Bradley, saying she delivered the baby, into the toilet, stillborn 30 some minutes later. “This baby was never born alive. She didn’t do anything to purposefully cause the death. This was a stillborn baby,” he said.

“She was scared, she didn’t know what to do,” Bradley continued. She put the remains in a garbage bag inside the trunk of her car, then dumped the bag in a wooded area off Sidley Road in Geauga County a few days later, when she was nearby for a church retreat at Koinonia Camp. [She] left it there under a tree, went back to the retreat."

The defense says that was 30-some days before the baby’s body was discovered.

“He was missing an arm and a leg, and skin on his belly. He was in bad shape,” testified Cheryl Jenkins, the state’s first witness. Jenkins was delivering papers when she found the baby’s body in the road, first thinking she’d spotted a doll.

Despite years of interest and investigation, the case remained unsolved until 2019. That’s when investigators identified familial DNA and created a family tree of some 1400 people, eventually linking back to Ritchey. Prosecutors say Ritchey confessed to leaving the baby behind, and DNA samples confirmed the relationship.

“It confirms that she is the mother of the child, the community has come to know as ‘Geauga’s Child,’” said the prosecutor, “It confirms that her now husband Mark Ritchey was the father [of the infant.] It also confirms that both her DNA and the DNA of [Geauga Child] match the fluid and blood found in that garbage bag.”

The state say the baby was born alive and murdered, drawing attention to forensic evidence, and autopsy of the baby's lungs. “He was an otherwise healthy baby boy,” said prosecutors.

“These lungs breathed,” testified Dr. Joseph Felo. Felo did not perform the autopsy then, but as Cuyahoga County Chief Deputy Medical Examiner, has reviewed the case. “I don’t know how many breaths were taken, but there is indication that it breathed on its own. That’s why it’s a live birth, that given the opportunity may have lived a full life.”

Investigators say the autopsy couldn't determine how long the child had been left, or how exactly he died. The cause was undetermined, but findings indicated by violent means.

Ritchey later married the newborn's father. They have three adult children.

She told investigators at the time of her arrest that she had disposed of another infant's body two years prior to the birth of her son, authorities said at the time.

The defense says Gail Eastwood Ritchey will testify herself before the trial is over. It begins again Friday at 8 a.m.

Watch the opening statements from Thursday morning in the player below. 

WARNING: Video contains graphic content:

PREVIOUS COVERAGE OF THE CASE:

Editor's note: Video in the player above was originally published in a previous story on March 28, 2022.

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