Joshua Curtis Ritchie, 23, commended the young boys he molested for doing something he never had the courage to do: speak out about sexual abuse.
In a statement read at his sentencing Thursday in 3rd District Court in Canyon County, Ritchie tearfully apologized for abusing the boys.
"To be honest, I admire them. I was abused many times when I was 8 years old, and unlike these guys, I was never brave enough to tell anyone about it," Ritchie said. "I just recently came to understand that the abuse and pressure of keeping it secret caused many of my issues. ... If I'd spoken up and said what happened to me, we would not be here today."
But he emphasized that he wasn't making excuses.
"That man may have warped my way of thinking, but I know it was still my decision to act," Ritchie said. "I really want to fix myself."
Ritchie worked at Cornerstone Child Care, Idaho Arts Charter School and the Nampa School District before he was arrested in August and accused of molesting children beginning as early as 2009. He's been in jail since.
His victims were between 4 and 14. Their parents packed Judge Bradley Ford's courtroom for Thursday's five-hour hearing. Some spoke emotionally about the devastation Ritchie caused and said they fear their children will be unable to form normal relationships.
Many wept as Deputy Prosecutor Erika Kallin detailed the abuse and described how Ritchie often used games, snacks and other incentives to get close to his victims.
"I know the defendant doesn't want to be a monster anymore, but the reality is, he is a monster," Kallin said "He is a monster to these victims, their parents and he is perceived as a monster by the community. He must be punished."
A Boise police officer whose son was molested by Ritchie cried as he described his dedication to his job of keeping the community safe and the devastation in knowing he'd "failed in his most important job as a father."
He said his son feared day care and cried when he had to go.
"I just saw it as a damn phase," the officer said. "I forced him back into harm's way, over and over and over again.
"The crazy thing is, I'm trained to see these kinds of signs, and I didn't see it until it was too late," he continued, adding that the only appropriate punishment for Ritchie is death.
The Idaho Statesman is not naming the parents who spoke at the hearing to protect the identity of their children.
Police started investigating Ritchie in August after a 5-year-old boy told his mother about the abuse, Kallin said.
Kallin called for Ritchie to receive 42 years to life in prison while Ritchie's lawyer, Chad Gulstrom, asked for 10 to 25 years. A court-assigned evaluator classified Ritchie as a pedophile with an interest in pornography and no normal sexual experiences.
REACTION TO THE SENTENCE
Ford said a sentence of at least 32 years protects the public, punishes Ritchie and serves as a deterrent.
"If you choose to sexually exploit children in this community, you will face significant consequences for your actions," Ford said, noting that Ritchie will be 55 before he's able to ask for parole. "This is a significant sentence."
Ritchie will be required to register as a sex offender if he's released and is to pay each victim $5,000.
Ritchie's father, Phillip Ritchie, said his son was molested by a relative and he decided not to pursue charges - a decision he regrets.
"I intended to one day hold my son's abuser accountable, as soon as his parents were no longer around to be affected," Phillip Ritchie said.
He did not ask for leniency for his son and said he understands the anger the victims feel.
"I disagree with practically nothing I've heard," Phillip Ritchie said.
Another father whose sons were molested by Ritchie cried as he recalled his own molestation as a child and how it affected him later.
"I can look at my boys, and I don't see any change in them, but as I recall myself as a child, I didn't really look back at my abuse at the time until I was an adult," he said. "I've read the statements. I know Josh was abused. But I know you don't have to abuse other children to get on with your life."
Lisa Tuohy owned the day care that employed Ritchie. She wept Thursday as she described the devastation Ritchie caused her community, business and family.
"You destroyed my reputation as a childcare provider," she said. "You knew the monster you were, yet every day, you had the audacity to go to work."
Tuohy said she's been left to pick up the pieces of Ritchie's actions while he's been in jail.
"I had no clue the sick behavior you were capable of," Tuohy said. "... People don't talk to me like they used to. ... My life, as I knew it, was ruined by you."
Ritchie often babysat autistic, adopted boys whom he knew had already been abused, Kallin said. He molested them repeatedly.
"Their mother had befriended him and trusted him to take care of their children," Kallin said.
Ritchie was formally charged with nine counts of lewd and lascivious conduct with a minor, though authorities say he molested at least 24 boys. He pleaded guilty to those charges, one count of sexual abuse of a minor in December, and two counts of sexual exploitation of a child for possessing sexual images of boys. His victims were not in the photos.
Meghann M. Cuniff: 377-6418