FRONT ROYAL — A Front Royal man was sentenced to 20 years in prison on Friday in a second-degree murder case in which he was accused of killing one of his girlfriend’s 22-month-old children and injuring the other.

Chad Andrew Ritchie, 28, of Front Royal, had previously entered into a plea deal that capped his punishment at 20 years.

During Friday’s sentencing, Judge Clifford L. Athey said that a 20-year punishment seemed appropriate, noting that it was around the midpoint of the sentencing guidelines. Athey called the situation a “tragedy” that cut short the life of Maliki Zimmerman and would affect Micah, the surviving child, for the rest of his life.

“Micah will live on remembering his brother for the rest of his life,” Athey said.

Throughout Friday’s sentencing, the defense attorneys, Jason Ransom and Jonathan Silvester, sought to portray Ritchie as a caring father who got overwhelmed and frustrated one day, causing him to lose control and hit the children. They also argued that Malaki’s death was caused because Ritchie had performed adult CPR on a child.

By contrast, Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Layton, arguing for the prosecution, said that Ritchie had demonstrated a pattern of abuse that resulted in the death of one of his girlfriend’s children and severe injuries to the other.

Over the course of the proceedings, the defense brought forward a number of Ritchie’s relatives, who said that Ritchie cared for the children and who said that they never saw any unusual signs of bruising.

Ritchie, in his testimony, also said that he cared for the children.

“They were my boys,” he said. “I loved them.”

In pictures, Ransom said in his closing arguments, Ritchie, Malaki and Micah all looked happy.

“You don’t see faces of fear,” Ransom said. “You don’t see faces of anguish.”

But Layton argued that Ritchie had displayed a pattern of abuse. He said that even in the “version” of the events that Ritchie portrays, Ritchie hit the children more than once.

On the night that Malaki died, Layton said, Micah had been so severely beaten that he had stopped crying.

“How hard do you have to hit a 22-month-old that they don’t even cry at that point?” Layton asked in his closing arguments.

Friday’s sentencing comes as Ritchie’s girlfriend, Tabitha Zimmerman, 28, of Front Royal, faces charges related to the case. Zimmerman has been charged with two counts of cruelty and injury to a child. That trial is set to begin on April 8.

– Contact Max Lee at mlee@nvdaily.com