An Austin man who continued a sexual relationship with a minor was sentenced to life in prison without parole after being convicted of continuous trafficking by a Hays County jury.
Robert Ritz, 44, was arrested on Jan. 18, 2013 for a continued sexual relationship with a minor he had met over social media, according to a Hays County press release. Ritz engaged in a sexual offense with the 13-year-old girl while in the presence of another minor who was 12 years old. The sexual relationship continued as Ritz met the child outside her home and continuously transported her to his home in Austin at night.
Brian Erskine, chief prosecutor of the Family Justice Division, said there were many charges against Ritz, one of which was continuous sexual abuse of a child under the age of 14. The trafficking aspect of the charge was because Ritz transported the minor, Erskine said.
This case is the first time the crime of Continuous Trafficking of Persons has been tried in Hays County.
“The continuous trafficking charge was the first time we’ve ever tried that case,” Erskine said. “From what I understand, it’s the first time it’s ever been tried in Texas,”
District Attorney Sherri Tibbe said Hays County may have been the first to pursue this type of prosecution because they were they first to get the case to trial.
“I’m sure there are other jurisdictions around the state that have been or are trying to pursue this type of prosecution,” Tibbe said.
Investigators found multiple sexually explicit communications between Ritz and the victim, according to the county press release
Ritz continued to contact and assault the victim after he knew he would be charged and continued to contact the minor while in prison, Erskine said.
“This is a guy that’s not going to stop, you know,” Erskine said. “So I’m pretty sure the jury decided they weren’t going to give him the chance.”
Ritz also had “intimate knowledge of the criminal justice system” because he worked as a corrections officer for 17 years at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Erskine said.
“I think in this case, the jury found that Mr. Ritz’s conduct was—I would say—pretty egregious, considering,” Erskine said.
Ritz lived and worked in Travis County, but the victim lived in Hays County, Erskine said. Because an element of the offense took place in Hays County, Ritz could be tried in Hays County.
A first-time offender convicted of the crime of Continuous Trafficking of Persons could serve 25-99 years in prison or life imprisonment without parole, according to the press release. The statute of Continuous Trafficking of Persons, with underlying crimes like sexual assault of children, passed in September 2011.
“We’re just glad that justice was done,” Erskine said. “I think it was an appropriate sentence—certainly the jury thought so—and we’re just glad to continue to prosecute these types of crimes.”
Any type of child abuse case, especially in which children are sexually abused by adults, must be strictly punished because research shows that people who commit these kinds of crimes tend to repeat them, Tibbe said.
“They keeping doing it and will continue to do it and are an extreme danger to children, so it’s very important that people who commit these kinds of acts are put in a place where they can’t get to children anymore,” Tibbe said.