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Fayette parents of injured twins might face trial

| Thursday, May 2, 2013, 7:39 p.m.

A Fayette County judge on Wednesday refused to impose a sentence that could have resulted in no jail time for parents accused of breaking their premature twin children's arms, ribs and legs.

President Judge John F. Wagner Jr. said he was not pleased to learn — after he had accepted the couple's guilty pleas in March — that another judge had previously rejected a plea bargain that called for a harsher sentence of 5-10 years in jail.

“Do I look like I just fell off the turnip truck?” Wagner asked when Kristen N. Eicher, 21, of 506 Clinton Road, Normalville, and Earl J. Ritenour, 22, of 1099 Indian Creek Valley Road, White, appeared before him for sentencing.

Because Wagner would not sentence within terms of a proposed plea bargain, Eicher and Ritenour withdrew their guilty pleas and their cases have been listed for trial.

State police in September 2011 charged the couple with two counts each of aggravated assault, child endangerment and simple assault.

Police said the couple caused multiple fractures in their 7-week-old premature twins shortly after the babies went home from the hospital on July 23, 2011. The boy and girl were born June 23, 2011.

The boy had a broken arm and the girl had a broken leg, according to police. Both infants had rib fractures.

Wagner said some of the injuries were “spiral fractures” and others were healing.

“Clearly, these children did not injure themselves,” Wagner said.

As part of a proposed plea bargain, the couple on March 28 entered guilty pleas before Wagner to child endangerment and simple assault. In exchange, prosecutors dropped the more serious charges of aggravated assault, according to court records.

On Wednesday, they expected to be sentenced either to 3-12 months in jail or to intermediate punishment. Intermediate punishment is a form of probation in which a defendant does not report to jail but must abide by court-ordered sanctions, which can include house arrest.

Wagner said he would not impose either the jail sentence or intermediate punishment because the infants suffered “horrific injuries.”

He said he was “not thrilled with the district attorney not telling” him that Judge Steve Leskinen had rejected the 5-10 year sentence in March 2012.

Assistant District Attorney Phyllis Jin said aggravated assault charges were dropped under the plea bargain because prosecutors were having “some difficulty with this case.”

Jin said the children are under the care of Fayette County Children and Youth Services. Eicher and Ritenour are free on $15,000 bond each.

Liz Zemba is a reporter with Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-601-2166 or lzemba@tribweb.com

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