Criminal Justice News and VIews

Interesting items related to criminal justice

My Photo
Location: Scottsdale, Arizona, United States

I love teaching and sharing knowledge. The Internet is a free passage to an amazing amount of knowledge provided by some of the greatest minds of the day. MIT, Oxford and other universities are now sharing lecture notes with the public and allowing us to dip into the overflowing fonts of wisdom that abound. Yale is but one university that has put actual lectures on the web.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Between the Proverbial Rock and a Hard Place

Justice misfires over gun as woman from Alton goes to jail in divorce case
By Paul Hampel
Of the Post-Dispatch
Saturday, Jul. 23 2005

Issued order

She is locked up after refusing to commit a crime by obeying a judge's order to
give the weapon to her husband, a convicted felon.

An Alton woman embroiled in a divorce case spent more than four hours in jail
for contempt of court after she refused a Madison County's judge's order to
return a handgun to her ex-husband, a convicted felon.

Elizabeth "Beth" Ritchie, 30, said that complying with Associate Judge Ellar
Duff's order, delivered at a hearing on Thursday, would have required Ritchie
to commit a crime herself.

It is a felony in Illinois for a felon to possess a firearm, and for anyone to
transfer a gun to a felon.

Duff said in an interview Friday that she did not learn until after the hearing
that Ritchie's ex-husband was a felon, and that she then ordered Beth Ritchie
released from the Madison County Jail.

Ritchie said she tried to explain the situation to Duff in court but was

"I was being ordered by the law to break the law," Ritchie said. "And when I
wouldn't, I got thrown in jail."

Ritchie's ex-husband, Timothy D. Ritchie, 34, a used-car salesman from Wood
River, was convicted in Madison County Circuit Court of felony drug possession
in 1999 and felony theft in 2000. He got probation in both cases.

The Ritchies got married in 2002 and divorced last year. They have a son, now 2
years old.

Beth Ritchie said she did not know of her husband's felony convictions until
she opened a letter in 2003 from the Illinois State Police declining Tim
Ritchie's request for a Firearm Owner's Identification Card.

In a divorce court order splitting possessions, Tim Ritchie was awarded the
pistol, a 9 mm automatic. He said the weapon was a gift from his father.

Beth Ritchie said that, without her husband's knowledge, she had asked her
father, Richard Swift, of Grafton, to take the pistol out of the couple's house
in 2003.

"I was worried about Tim having the gun there, that it was illegal and could
get us both in trouble," she said.

Beth Ritchie said she had mailed certified letters a month before Thursday's
hearing to three court officials - Associate Judge Nelson Metz, State's
Attorney Bill Mudge and Circuit Clerk Matt Melucci - informing them of the
legal dilemma over the pistol. She said she followed the letters up with calls
but never heard back from the officials.

Beth Ritchie attended Thursday's hearing with her father.

Tim Ritchie was also present.

Beth Ritchie said that she explained the situation to Duff but that the judge
refused to listen.

"She said she didn't care about other circumstances, that I had better return
the gun to Tim immediately," Ritchie said.

At that point, Beth Ritchie's father approached the bench, after getting
permission from the judge.

"I could see the letter Beth had written, outlining the whole matter, right
there on the bench in front of her (Duff)," said Swift, 59.

Swift said he asked whether the pistol could be given to Duff to transfer, "so
that we wouldn't be the ones breaking the law."

"At that point, Judge Duff just snapped and ordered my daughter and me arrested
for contempt of court," Swift said.

Swift said Duff quickly recanted the order against him. Beth Ritchie was
shackled and taken away.

"I was crying hysterically. It was terrifying. I had never been arrested for
anything in my life," she said.

Duff said Friday that she had ordered Ritchie arrested because she had been

"This was a disgruntled person who flat out refused, blatantly and
disrespectfully in open court, to comply with a court order," Duff said.

When asked whether Duff knew that complying with the order would constitute a
crime, the judge said she did not know that Tim Ritchie was a convicted felon.

"That did not come out in open court. If they said it did, they are liars,"
Duff said.

When asked whether a court reporter had been present at the hearing, so that a
transcript could determine whether Ritchie and her father were, indeed, liars,
Duff said, "I never said they were liars. You're twisting my words."

Duff said a court reporter was not present at the hearing, which she said was
common procedure for "routine issues."

Beth Ritchie was freed from the Madison County Jail on Duff's order shortly
before 6 p.m. Thursday.

Daphne Duret of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.