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Judge sentences Hancock man in mobile home fire

January 14, 2004|by PEPPER BALLARD

pepperb@herald-mail.com

A Hancock man was sentenced Tuesday to serve three years in prison in connection with a fire at a mobile home in which his estranged wife lived.

Edward Harrison Ritchie had pleaded guilty to a charge of threat of arson in connection with the fire.

Ritchie, 49, was arrested at the mobile home in June after a witness told police he saw Ritchie trying to set the trailer on fire.

His wife, Mary Jane Ritchie, 56, was not in the mobile home at the time of the fire.

Washington County Circuit Judge John H. McDowell sentenced Ritchie to 10 years in prison, but suspended all but three years of his sentence. McDowell ordered that upon his release, Ritchie will spend three years on supervised probation.

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Assistant Washington County State's Attorney Gina Cirincion said, "He has no prior history of criminal violence, but he has a long history of alcohol abuse and endangering persons. And he does just that: Endangers persons by use of alcohol."

McDowell said Ritchie's history of alcohol abuse, including drunken driving arrests in West Virginia, makes him a danger to himself and to others.

"You're a frightening man, to be quite honest, Mr. Ritchie," McDowell said.

While on supervised probation, Ritchie must submit to tests for drugs and alcohol, engage in an intensive substance abuse program and attend Alcoholic's Anonymous meetings. McDowell also ordered him not to trespass at the Fleming Court trailer park and to have no contact with the trailer park owner.

If Ritchie violates any of his probation requirements, McDowell said, he would serve the rest of his 10-year sentence in prison.

"Maybe I'm just setting you up for failure," McDowell said.

He said unless Ritchie corrects his alcohol problem he will remain on a cycle of violence.

Ritchie initially was charged with first-degree arson, threatening arson and two counts of reckless endangerment. In exchange for Ritchie's plea to threat of arson, the State's Attorney's Office dropped the remaining charges.

Ritchie has been held at the Washington County Detention Center for seven months, said Cirincion.

According to charging documents in Washington County District Court, Ritchie had at least three confrontations with his wife within the month leading up to the fire.

Ritchie's lawyer, Assistant Washington County Public Defender Carl Creeden, said he would file for a motion to modify Ritchie's sentence.

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