Fayette County couple accused of breaking twins' bones denied admission to ARD program

| Saturday, June 21, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

A Fayette County couple accused of breaking their premature twin children's arms, ribs and legs were denied entry into a probationary program that would have allowed them to avoid prison.

Earl J. Ritenour, 24, and Kristin Eicher, 22, both of Normalville, appeared on Friday before Senior Judge Ralph Warman for a hearing to determine their eligibility for the Accelerated Rehabilitation Disposition program, or ARD.

State police in September 2011 charged the couple with 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.

ARD is a probationary program for nonviolent, first-time offenders. Acceptance into the program is not an admission of guilt and typically allows a defendant's criminal record to be expunged.

Noting the charges against the couple were for a “violent crime” against “babies who had no way of defending themselves,” Warman denied both parents entry into the program.

“I don't see how they could possibly be considered for an ARD,” Warman said.

Assistant District Attorney Gene Grimm, who was assigned to handle the hearing, said District Attorney Jack Heneks apparently approved the couple's application for ARD, but he found nothing in their files to support their admission into the program.

“In good conscience, I can't make an argument for that,” Grimm said.

Contacted after the hearing, Heneks said ARD was offered because the charges will be difficult to prove at trial.

“We have evidentiary problems with that case, in which we can't prove one or the other did it,” Heneks said.

Heneks said the case will have to go to trial because judges rejected the plea bargains.

“We'll put it on the trial list,” Heneks said. “We'll see if we can sustain our burden (of proof).”

The hearing marked the third time the couple has attempted to resolve the cases without a trial.

Judge Steve Leskinen in March 2012 rejected a plea bargain that called for prison sentences of five to 10 years. President Judge John F. Wagner Jr. in May 2013 rejected a deal that called for the couple to be sentenced either to three to 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.

Eicher and Ritenour are free on $15,000 bond each, pending trial. Grimm would not reveal who has custody of the children but said they are “in a safe place.”

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