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Mother pleads on trial's first day

April 25, 2006|by PEPPER BALLARD

HAGERSTOWN

On what was to be the first day of a trial on charges that she abandoned her newborn boy under a trailer in September 2005, Kelly Erin Ruck entered an Alford plea Monday in Washington County Circuit Court to attempted second-degree murder.

Under an Alford plea, a defendant does not admit guilt but acknowledges that the prosecution has sufficient evidence to gain a conviction.

Maryland sentencing guidelines, which are discretionary for the state's judges, call for a sentence of three to eight years for Ruck, who has no prior criminal record, Washington County State's Attorney Charles Strong said.

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The maximum sentence for attempted second-degree murder is 30 years.

The remaining charges against Ruck, 26, were dropped. She had pleaded not criminally responsible to all charges, including attempted first-degree murder, stemming from a Sept. 17, 2005, incident in which her neighbor found a newborn boy beneath pieces of wood and under a trailer behind Ruck's 809 Maryland Ave. home about 9:30 a.m.

In entering the plea Monday, Ruck dropped her previous plea of not criminally responsible. A psychiatrist for the defense is expected to testify about Ruck's mental health at her scheduled May 15 sentencing hearing. A presentence investigation into Ruck's background was ordered.

Strong said after the hearing that the state's psychologist determined Ruck was "competent" to stand trial.

He said prosecutors decided to accept the Alford plea because, "You get the same bottom line. It's a conviction. Apparently, the defendant still maintains a state of denial but has admitted fully that the state could prove its case."

On Monday, Ruck - who had worn baggy sweatshirts to many of her previous court hearings - wore a tight-fitting, striped blouse and had her hair curled. As Circuit Judge W. Kennedy Boone III asked her standard questions to determine whether the plea was voluntary, Ruck responded with her hands clasped, standing beside her attorney, Gordon Lynn.

Lynn explained that Ruck received treatment from Brook Lane from 1996 to 1999, was admitted into Washington County Hospital's psychiatric ward following her arrest in this case and is under the care of a psychiatrist at the Washington County Detention Center.

Deputy State's Attorney Joseph Michael told Boone that Ruck's neighbor, James Sollenberger, noticed trash beside a trailer parked behind his 810 Chestnut St. home after finishing work outside the morning of Sept. 17.

Beneath the trailer, Sollenberger found "two blocks of wood and through those blocks of wood was a hand. He found a newborn infant," Michael said, reading over the facts supporting the state's case.

Sollenberger wrapped the baby and called police. Within 15 minutes, the newborn was taken to Washington County Hospital, where his temperature was recorded at 88 degrees, Michael said.

"He had a matter of hours to live," Michael said, noting that the boy who was named Connor Aidan Rohrbaugh was diagnosed with hypothermia and hypoglycemia.

An investigation determined that Ruck gave birth to the boy at her home that morning while her live-in boyfriend, Scott Rohrbaugh, slept. Rohrbaugh told detectives he suspected Ruck was pregnant, but she "said she wasn't pregnant and refused to take a pregnancy test," Michael said.

On the morning of Sept. 17, Rohrbaugh found "a large amount of blood" in the home and asked Ruck about it, but she said "she vomited," Michael said.

She also denied that she was pregnant to a curious co-worker, Michael said.

DNA results concluded the boy was the child of Ruck and Rohrbaugh, Michael said.

Sollenberger, who arrived to testify Monday, said after the hearing that he did not care whether Ruck receives a light or heavy sentence for the crime.

"I just care about the baby. As far as the rest of it goes, that's her deal," he said. "She's got a life to live, too, I guess."

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