Michael Campbell Sturgis, South Dakota teen pleads guilty to shooting long distance Wyoming girlfriend, Shayna Ritthaler dead.
A 17-year-old South Dakota teen has admitted to fatally shooting his out-of-state 16-year-old girlfriend during an argument. The girl’s shooting death followed her running away from home to be with her ‘sweetheart’ after first meeting online.
Michael Gavin Campbell pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter on Thursday for killing Shayna Ritthaler, from Upton, Wyoming, last fall.
‘We got into an argument and then I shot her,’ Michael Campbell said during his change-of-plea hearing at Meade County Court. ‘I shot her in the head.’
Campbell was initially charged with second-degree murder. That charge is dismissed with the plea deal.
Campbell who had previously pled not guilty, faces 55 years in prison when he is sentenced in July the Argus Leader reports.
Plea deal for 55 years:
Ritthaler’s body was found on October 7 in the basement of the home Campbell shared with his mother after the pair met on an online dating site.
Asked by Judge Kevin Krull if he had any justification for killing Ritthaler, the teen replied, ‘No.’
In court, the defendant referred to the victim as his girlfriend.
Both the prosecutor and the defense agreed to ask the judge to sentence the boy to 55 years in prison. Krull said he plans to follow that recommendation and that if he changes his mind, the defendant could withdraw his guilty plea.
The teen originally pleaded not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity to alternate counts of first- and second-degree murder.
Under the proposed sentence, the defendant could seek parole after 27 years, when he is 44 years old. Sentencing is set for July 10.
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Missing Wyoming teen girl found dead:
Campbell and Ritthaler had been chatting online for a while, only for the teen boy to shoot his ‘long distance girlfriend’ dead upon the first time meeting her, Meade County State’s Attorney Michele Bordewyk told the Rapid City Journal.
Ritthaler went missing October 3 after being seen getting into a Jeep-like vehicle at a coffee shop in Moorcroft, South Dakota.
Her body was found on October 7 in the basement of the home her boyfriend shared with his mother east of Sturgis, near the Wyoming border.
The teenager’s body was found when deputies and agents from the South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation executed a search warrant on the request of the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office, which was working with investigators in Wyoming.
Acting Meade County state’s attorney Michele Bordewyk said Campbell lived at the home in Blucksberg with his mother and that he had recently moved there from Brookings.
17 year old giving up rights in exchange for plea deal:
Family members of both the defendant and the victim attended Thursday’s hearing. Ritthaler’s family said they weren’t yet ready to speak.
Ahead of Thursday’s hearing, MinDee Ritthaler, Shayna’s mother, who now lives in Florida, posted on Facebook: ‘this waiting game is torture. Being 2 hours ahead means the wait is even longer. I want this day to be done (with good results). Then maybe we can truly begin the healing process…’
Earlier this week, before the plea deal was announced, Ritthaler shared on social media how she broke down in tears after almost dialing her dead daughter’s phone number by mistake.
‘[May 4] makes 7 months since that pos stole my butterfly and made her an Angel,’ the victim’s mother posted.
In court, Campbell said he understood he was giving up his right to argue that he was mentally incompetent at the time of the shooting and that his case should be transferred to juvenile court, where he could have been imprisoned only until the age of 21.
He also said he understood he was giving up his right that the judge should suppress statements he made to law enforcement and block all evidence from a search of his phone and home. He agreed with a special part of the plea deal that he is giving up his right to appeal.
Krull told the defendant that he can’t have any contact with the Ritthaler family for the rest of his life and that he owed them more than $8,300 in restitution.
Bordewyk, the prosecutor, told the Journal that Ritthaler’s family approved of the plea deal. Defense lawyer Steven Titus said it was unlikely that the judge would have agreed to transfer the teen to juvenile court.
Bordewyk said the two met on an online chat and dating website and that they planned for Ritthaler to run away and live with the defendant. It was the defendant who picked up Ritthaler from the coffee shop, driving his mother’s vehicle, the prosecutor said.
Bordewyk said it’s unclear how an argument between the pair escalated to the boy shooting Ritthaler. She said the teen used a handgun that belonged to his mother, who was not home at the time.
Titus, the defense attorney, said the shooting was not planned and that alcohol and drugs were involved.
The defendant is being held on a $1million bond at juvenile jail in Rapid City. He will appear again in court on July 10 for formal sentencing.
First-degree manslaughter, a Class C Felony, is punishable by up to life in prison. However, the U.S. Supreme Court in 2012 ruled that juveniles cannot be sentenced to mandatory life in prison without the possibility of parole. Because Campbell is a juvenile, the maximum sentence he could receive under South Dakota law is ‘a term in prison’ and a $50,000 fine.