Family and friends had helped Mary Jo Ritter deal with her son, Gary, and his long struggle with mental health problems, Kellie Rybarczyk told a Franklin County Common Pleas Court judge.
"I know his mother worried about him, that he would take his own life or be homeless," Rybarczyk said. But their efforts couldn't stop Ritter, 34, from stabbing his 58-year-old mother to death in their Madison Township home on April 16, 2014.
Judge Richard A. Frye sentenced Ritter to 15 years to life on Thursday for his mother's murder.
Prosecutors recommended that he be released after 15 years, minus one year for the time he's been in jail. When Frye noted that the Ohio Parole Board would decide how long he actually spends in prison, including up to life, Ritter said he thought he was pleading to 15 years with no life maximum.
After explaining how the sentenced worked a couple of more times Frye asked him if he wanted to go to trial. Ritter said, "No, I'm good."
He said he attacked his mother because she would not stop "riding me and riding me" and he just "flipped."
He called 911 and greeted sheriff's deputies at at the door of the family's Burbank Road home with fresh blood on him and holding his hands out to be arrested.
A psychologist originally said Ritter was not competent to stand trial and he was admitted to a state psychiatric hospital. Subsequent examinations after treatment showed he was competent.
Defense attorney Adam Nemann said that a week before the attack Ritter had gone to a hospital seeking help but was turned away.
The constant mental-health care Ritter will receive in prison is the best thing for him, Rybarczyk said. "He's a good person, he really is."
Bill Mayer, fiance of Ritter's sister, said the 6-foot-4, 240 pound Ritter is a gentle soul.
"I hope he's not treated as a monster, that's not Gary," Mayer said.
PREVIOUS ARTICLE, 4/18/14:
Gary A. Ritter couldn’t bring himself to tell a 911 dispatcher what he’d done to his mother in their Madison Township home on Wednesday night.
The 32-year-old started out with excuses, explaining breathlessly why he needed officers and a medic at 3437 Burbank Rd. He is on disability, he said. He tried to get help, he said.
“My mom’s been riding me and riding me and riding me, and I just flipped,” he said during the call at 5:50 p.m. “She won’t leave me alone.
“I went to the hospital to try and find help,” he continued. “And there’s not much people can do. She keeps coming at me verbally and abusively and keeps cussing at me.”
“Did you assault her?” the dispatcher asked.
“No. I flipped on her,” he replied, then reversed himself. “Yeah, I assaulted her.”
“You did hit your mom?” the dispatcher asked.
“I did more than that,” he said.
He wouldn’t say what more but repeated that a squad needed to come and that he wouldn’t be armed. Then he hung up.
When officers arrived, they found the body of Mary Jo Ritter, 58, at the top of the stairs in the split-level home, Madison Township Police Capt. Ken Braden said yesterday. Gary Ritter was covered in blood.
Ritter was cooperative, as he had promised on the 911 call, Braden said.
“He had his hands out to be cuffed when the first deputy arrived on scene there,” Braden said. But once Ritter was in custody, he asked for a lawyer and refused to give a statement.
His mother had been stabbed several times, and a knife was near the body, Braden said. She hadn’t been dead long.
Mary Jo Ritter was beloved by her co-workers and participants at the Bixby Living Skills Center in Groveport, where she had worked with severely developmentally disabled people since 2000.
On Wednesday morning, she had chatted with co-worker Shirley Maynard about retirement, still a few years off for both of them. Maynard and her friend had taken vacations together in recent years to Kentucky, where they rode four-wheelers and enjoyed the outdoors.
“She was an awesome person,” Maynard said. “She would be there for you regardless of what was going on with her. She would always ask about you and your family.”
She didn’t talk much about her home life, though, Maynard said. “I think it was more private for her,” she said. “She didn’t bring her stuff to work.”
She was doing better since the loss of her husband of 33 years, Donald, in 2010. In addition to their son, they had a daughter and many foster children, according to his obituary.
Her son is under safety watch in the Franklin County jail pending a mental-health assessment. Gary Ritter is bipolar, his mother told a 911 dispatcher one night in October after he left the house and didn’t return.
He didn’t return because he had been arrested. On the night of Oct. 10, a deputy sheriff found him walking in traffic on Rt. 317 not far from his home. When the deputy told him to move, he refused. The deputy tried to take him into custody, and he pulled away and struck the deputy.
He was charged with failure to comply, resisting arrest, disorderly conduct and assault on a peace officer. He pleaded guilty to resisting arrest, and the other charges were dismissed after he agreed to enter the court’s mental-health program. He got two years on probation, and an 88-day jail term was suspended.
That probation now is revoked, and he is charged with murdering his mother.