FRONT ROYAL–The three-day trial of Tabitha Zimmerman, who is charged with two counts of cruelty and injury to children, began Monday with the appointment of a jury and opening statements.
On Nov. 8, 2017, first responders went to Zimmerman’s home, which she shared with Chad Ritchie, to respond to a child in distress call. One of the children was unconscious and required CPR, according to Michael Robinson, a deputy with the Warren County Sheriff’s Office who testified on Monday.
The other child was sitting on the bed watching, Robinson told the jury.
Last month, Ritchie was sentenced to 20 years for the second-degree murder of the 22-month-old child.
Bryan Layton, the commonwealth’s attorney, laid out a case emphasizing responsibility, assigning blame and making choices in his opening statement. Layton originally attempted to try Ritchie and Zimmerman together but withdrew his original motion before the trial began.
Layton told the jury the state’s case would center on Nov. 8, 2017, but included all of the decisions Zimmerman made following up to that day. He urged jury members to use their common sense because this trial, he said, would include circumstantial evidence that required the jury to connect the dots.
John Bell, the attorney defending Zimmerman, argued that the evidence against Zimmerman would lay out a “rough life” and that some of it was “her own doing,” but, he said, there was also a clear path of recovery.
“She will tell you about being an opioid addict,” Bell told the jury. “Then something happened — she discovered she was pregnant with twin boys in prison.”
The first day of the trial passed through the jury selection process and ended after opening statements and the testimony of two witnesses.
Besides Robinson, Layton also called Ashley Blansett, a pediatrician who saw both of Zimmerman’s boys for checkups for about 15 months, with a few exceptions while she was on maternity leave.
Blansett said she didn’t see any signs that raised red flags. Blansett explained that, as a mandatory reporter, if she saw anything during exams or in tests that suggested any harm was happening to the children at home, she was required to tell Social Services. She told the jury she did not see anything that would require a report.
Although nothing rose to the level of needing to report, Blansett said, there were two strange occurrences involving Zimmerman and her boys.
She said Zimmerman canceled their 18-month checkup and one of the boys lost a significant amount of weight between August 2017 and October 2017.
“The fact that he lost 8 pounds in a child that small is very concerning,” Blansett said.
When it came to Ritchie interacting with the boys, Blansett said he was more attentive than boyfriends usually are. Bell asked Blansett about an interview she had participated in where she said most boyfriends usually play on their phones during checkups, she said Ritchie appeared to be more attentive than most non-biological fathers.
Judge Clifford Athey said he plans for the trial to continue through Wednesday.
Athey, Layton and Bell agreed to select 14 jurors, allowing for two alternate jurors should any situation arise causing someone to have to leave. The jurors do not know who the alternates are and Athey said their names will be selected after closing arguments.
The second day of the trial will begin at 9 a.m. today.