by ANDY SEVILLA
A Hays County jury sentenced an Austin man to life without parole after being convicted of continuous child trafficking and continuous child sex assault.
Robert Francis Ritz was first arrested Jan. 18, 2013 for a continued sexual relationship with a Dripping Springs girl under the age of 14 and for trafficking the child, according to court documents. Investigators learned that the 44-year-old man met the child victim on a dating website, eHarmony, when she was 13 years old, court documents state.
When the two met in person, Ritz and the child engaged in a sexual offense while in the presence of a second minor, according to a written statement from Hays County District Attorney Sherri Tibbe. Authorities said Ritz continued the sexual relationship with the child by continually transporting her from her Hays County home to his Austin home at night.
The child told investigators she would sneak out of her home through her window, walk a couple houses down, and Ritz would pick her up, according to the 2013 probable cause affidavit used to secure an arrest warrant for Ritz.
The girl told investigators she warned Ritz she was 14 years old, but the man allegedly told her “he really liked her and as long as nobody found out, then it would be okay,” the affidavit said.
Investigators found many sexually explicit communications between Ritz and the minor, including a proposition to “run off with her,” the DA’s statement said. Ritz was made aware of the criminal investigation prior to his 2013 arrest, but the man continued to contact the victim.
During his 15-month incarceration at the Hays County jail, Ritz sent the girl two separate letters expressing his obsession with the minor with hopes of influencing her testimony, Tibbe said.
The Hays County jury, charged with handing down a punishment, had a range between 25 to 99 years or life in prison without parole. After being found guilty on May 13, Ritz was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole the next day.
In 2011, Texas legislators approved harsher punishments for charges of continuous trafficking of persons, with underlying crimes such as forced labor, sexual assault of children and compelled prostitution.
In order to commit the trafficking offense, the perpetrator must traffic an individual, in other words transport, entice, recruit, harbor, provide or otherwise obtain another person by any means and commit two or more acts of abuse over a period of more than 30 days, Tibbe said.
Ritz’s conviction is the first of its kind in Hays County.
“When access to our children intersect with technology and the persistence of these depraved offenders, the exploitation of vulnerable victims must be met with a strong response,” Tibbe’s office said. “Our community has responded.
ANDY SEVILLA reports for the Hays Free Press where this story was originally published. It is reprinted here through a news partnership between the Free Press and the San Marcos Mercury.
COVER: STOCK PHOTO by DAVID FULMER. MERCURY GRAPHIC by BRAD ROLLINS.