Sturgis teen kills online girlfriend who had run away from home to meet him for first time: 'I shot her in the head'
STURGIS, SOUTH DAKOTA: A 17-year-old boy who shot his girlfriend in the head after meeting her in person for the first time has pleaded guilty. Michael Gavin Campbell killed 16-year-old Shayna Ritthaler during an argument last fall before hiding her body in the home he shared with his mother.
Campbell pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter on Thursday, May 7, for murdering Ritthaler from Upton, Wyoming. “We got into an argument and then I shot her,” the teen said during a hearing at Meade County Court. “I shot her in the head,” he added.
When Judge Kevin Krull asked Campbell if he wanted to say anything justifying the fatal shooting, the teen replied in negative. According to reports, both the defense and the prosecutor have agreed to ask the judge to give 55 years of jail term to the teen. Krull said he intends to follow the suggestion and that if he changes his mind, the defendant could withdraw his guilty plea.
Campbell is scheduled to be sentenced on July 10. He has also agreed to pay $8,339.54 in restitution to the Ritthaler family with whom he cannot have any contact with for the rest of his life as per the judge order. Reports also claimed that under the proposed sentence, the boy could seek parole after 27 years, when he is 44 years old.
Campbell and Ritthaler reportedly met online on a dating website and after chatting virtually for a while, they met in person for the first time in October 2019 when the incident happened. The girl went missing on October 3 after being seen getting into a Jeep-like vehicle at a coffee shop in Moorcroft, South Dakota.
A few days later, on October 7, Ritthaler’s body was found in the basement of Campbell’s home after deputies and agents with the South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation searched the place.
Meade County State's Attorney Michele Bordewyk said that it was the defendant who picked up the girl from the coffee shop, driving his mother's vehicle. At the time of the incident, Ritthaler was reportedly at the defendant’s home when the argument escalated leading to the fatal shooting.
Bordewyk said it was not clear how an argument started between the two. She said Campbell used a handgun that belonged to his mother, who was not home at the time, for the murder. While Defense lawyer Steven Titus the killing was not planned and that alcohol and drugs were involved.
Initially, Campbell had pleaded not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity to alternate counts of first- and second-degree murder. However, on May 7, he pleaded guilty to the murder.
During the hearing, Campbell also waived off his insanity defense, a hearing to be tried as a juvenile, and his rights to appeal. He agreed with a special part of the plea deal that he is giving up his right to appeal.
The teen has been held on a $1million bond at a juvenile home in Rapid City. He is expected to appear again in court later in July for formal sentencing.