AUSTIN, TEXAS (AP/Austin American-Statesman) - A sentence of life without parole for a Central Texas man convicted of having a yearlong sexual relationship with a 14-year-old girl has raised questions about application of a new state law intended to attack trafficking of young people for sexual purposes.
The Hays County jury sentenced Robert Ritz in San Marcos, about 30 miles southwest of Austin. Court records show the 43-year-old prison guard met the girl online, where she gave a fake age, the Austin American-Statesman reported(http://bit.ly/1gtrjhG ).
The new law makes the continuous trafficking of someone younger than 17 or the continuous sexual abuse of someone younger than 14 punishable by life imprisonment without parole.
Brian Erskine, Hays County's chief assistant criminal district attorney, hailed the case as a landmark victory.
"Our endeavor is and has always been to be a leader in the prosecution of crimes against children," he said. "When access to our children intersects with technology and the perseverance of these depraved offenders, the exploitation of vulnerable victims must be met with a strong response. Our community has responded," he told the newspaper.
However, it alarmed the law's author, state Rep. Senfronia Thompson, who said the law was misapplied.
Thompson, a Houston Democrat, said she intended the bill to target those who traffic in young people for prostitution or hold them against their will for commercial sexual purposes.
Ritz met the girl through the online dating site eHarmony in 2011, according to court records. Although the girl gave a fake age in her online profile, the messages they exchanged showed Ritz knew the girl was underage. The girl eventually sneaked from her Hays County home to meet him, and he drove her to his Austin home or other locations to have sex.
The jury was given the option of convicting Ritz of a lesser charge with a lesser penalty but went with the stronger penalty, Erskin said.
Ritz's attorney, Barrett Hansen, said he will appeal.