OSKALOOSA — A judge has set aside Alicia Ritenour’s conviction in the death of her daughter, Ava, ordering a new trial.
A jury convicted Ritenour in 2014 of first degree murder and child endangerment resulting in death. Judge Daniel Wilson severely criticized Ritenour’s attorney, finding multiple errors skewed the trial.
Wilson agreed with multiple arguments in Ritenour’s application for post-conviction relief. He said Michael Adams’ handling of the case fell short of basic standards for a defense attorney.
“Considering all claims of ineffective assistance of counsel, the Court finds that the cumulative effect of trial counsel’s failure to perform essential duties,” was prejudicial, Wilson wrote.
Ritenour’s fitness as a mother was central to the prosecution’s case, but Adams did not introduce evidence including her participation in a parenting class, the time she spent with Ava in the days prior to her death, or the fact she was seeking employment.
“Even with the presumption of competent performance, trial counsel’s conduct fell below the standard of a reasonably competent defense attorney,” Wilson wrote.
Wilson also criticized Adams’ failure to challenge inconsistencies in testimony from Logan Cavan. He wrote that the evidence in the case was largely circumstantial, which made the credibility of testimony very important. When Adams didn’t challenge Cavan, it meant Ritenour was denied an opportunity to raise questions in jurors’ minds about his truthfulness.
Similarly, the fact Adams did not introduce evidence of Cavan’s history of drug use.
“Trial counsel clearly was following this strategy, but failed to take the necessary steps. Because he failed to make this argument to the trial court, he did not provide effective assistance,” Wilson wrote. “Had trial counsel presented the drug use evidence in order to show [Logan] Cavan had motive for killing Ava, the outcome of the trial may have been different. Therefore, Ritenour received ineffective assistance of counsel.”
While minor failures are commonplace, Wilson wrote the cumulative effect of the errors was enough to deny Ritenour a fair trial.
Ritenour was not granted immediate release, but Wilson set her bail at $500,000. Further proceedings are expected within 35 days, according to Wilson’s order.