Thursday, October 16, 2003

Trial begins in death of woman



By Jim Hannah
The Cincinnati Enquirer

BURLINGTON - More than two years after 22-year-old Rebecca Ritchie's body was found in the Ohio River, the man accused of killing her walked into a courtroom Wednesday to defend himself against a murder charge that could send him to prison for life.

A Boone County jury must decide whether Richard Lambert, 25, is guilty of murder, tampering with evidence and abuse of a corpse.

Prosecutors say Lambert either picked up or kidnapped Ritchie on Feb. 26, 2001, in Covington, where he had gone to buy drugs. Police believe he killed Ritchie and then drove her body to the boat dock in Petersburg.

There, police say, he tossed her body in the Ohio River.

Police say DNA tests from blood found in the back of Lambert's pickup matched that of the victim.

Lambert has given various explanations for how Ritchie died, including one in which he said she and his ex-girlfriend got into a fight and his ex-girlfriend killed Ritchie with a blow to the head.

The trial had been delayed after a series of odd twists.

Lambert was arrested before police had recovered a body from the river or even knew who the victim was.

He was originally charged with tampering with physical evidence and abuse of a corpse. The murder charge was added with the discovery of the body.

The body was recovered April 11, 2001, a short distance downstream form the boat ramp. It had become entangled on boat dock pilings.

When the body was recovered, police didn't know the identity of the woman. Detailed descriptions of tattoos on her body were released to reporters before family members came forward.

Boone Circuit Judge Jay Bamberger was then forced to delay the case further after Lambert dropped his attorneys in favor of representing himself.

Then, in August 2002, Lambert was implicated in a plot to dig out mortar between cinder blocks in the maximum-security cell where he was being held in at the Boone County jail.

No one escaped after correction officers learned of the escape plot.

Ritchie's parents say their daughter struggled from a lifelong addiction to drugs.

In November 2000, Ritchie was sent to the Women's Residential Addiction Program, a long-term residential drug treatment program in Covington, as part of a sentence for crack-cocaine abuse, her parents have said. She ran away from the program three months later.

Police have said Lambert told his ex-girlfriend he went to Covington to buy some Valium from a woman "previously unknown to him," and he became angry when the woman tried to "rip him off."

E-mail jhannah@enquirer.com




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