OSKALOOSA — With a plea of guilty and an agreement to drop a murder charge, Alicia Ritenour returns to prison instead of a new trial.
Ritenour was first convicted in 2014 of first-degree murder and child endangerment resulting in the death of her 18-month-old daughter, Ava.
On Jan. 24, 2014, Oskaloosa Police Officers were called to Ritenour’s apartment, where Ava Ritenour was found dead. Following an autopsy, the Iowa State Medical Examiner determined the cause of death to be trauma to the head and was classified as a homicide.
Those charges were appealed and upheld in 2016. In December of 2018, judge Daniel Wilson granted her a new trial, criticizing her then-attorney’s handling of the case.
On Sept. 26, days before Ritenour’s new trial was set to begin, a plea agreement was reached, wherein she would plead guilty to the charge of child endangerment resulting in death, and the charge of murder would be taken off the table.
Ritenour will serve up to 50 years and will be given credit for all time already served in connection with the case.
Prosecuting attorney Andrew Ritland said further criminal proceedings in the case should be concluded.
“I think it’s a fair resolution. It holds her accountable for her actions. She is not going to get out anytime soon. I think it fairly reflects not only the violent nature of the offense but, obviously, the significant loss of life as well,” he said. “So I think her taking responsibility for her actions and owning up to what she did, I think is appropriate in this case.”
When serious charges are presented against someone, Ritland said, there are often last minute explorations of potential plea agreements.
“She (Ritenour) had rejected plea offers in the past on the record in prior proceedings. So it’s not like this was the only opportunity to admit her guilt; she had just rejected those opportunities in the past,” he said. “When people come closer to trial, they kind of realize the potential consequences that are in place if they’re found guilty and they can sometimes re-evaluate their positions.”
While sudden, Ritland said, it was not necessarily unusual and that defendants will often wait until the last moment to try to make that final decision.
Ritenour's attorney, Gina Messamer said she had no comment to make regarding Ritenour's plea.
(This story has been updated to reflect the statement from Messamer.)