'It's a puzzle' why teen allegedly killed two toddlers

Debbie Blank | The Herald-TribuneRipley County Prosecutor Ric Hertel (from left) lays out the case while Chief Deputy Prosecutor Shane Tucker and Indiana State Police Detectives Peter Tressler, Brent Miller, Kip Main and Tom Baxter listen.

VERSAILLES – Two criminal investigations that remained tightly under wraps for over 16 months were revealed by Ripley County Prosecuting Attorney Ric Hertel at a Sept. 12 morning press conference in the Ripley County Annex.

"On May 1, 2017, paramedics and police responded to a residence in Osgood" was the way his account began. Desiree McCartney, 2, was unresponsive at 238 S. Maple St.

When mother Christina McCartney arrived home from work around 6:45 p.m. she told investigators "she walked toward the dining room" and saw oldest son Nickalas Kedrowitz, then 13, with her daughter Desiree in a towel. "Christina said Nickalas told her that he did not think Desiree was feeling good because she was not talking to him." When the toddler didn't respond to her name or being shaken, the mother began performing CPR and told fiance Stephen Ritz to call 911, according to the probable cause affidavit written by Indiana State Police Detectives Brent Miller and Peter Tressler and filed in Ripley Circuit Court.

Ritz told detectives he was bathing Desiree when two other children, Abby, 1, and Nathaniel Ritz, 8 months, began crying in the living room. He went to check on them, asking Nickalas to go into the bathroom with Desiree. The teen said he left her alone for about 5 minutes while getting some wipes. When the man returned, the toddler was lying in the tub, not breathing.

The 23-month-old was transported to Margaret Mary Health, Batesville, then transferred to Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, where she died five days later. Indiana State Police began an investigation led by Miller.

The Indiana Department of Child Services "began a separate and distinct investigation at that same period of time," the prosecutor reported. IDCS filed a CHINS (child in need of services) petition about Nickalas Kedrowitz.

Dr. Karen Looman, Hamilton County, Ohio, deputy coroner, said the death was of an undetermined cause, the court document stated. Were authorities concerned? Hertel answered, "Anybody who was in that home at the time of that first death had to be considered a suspect."

Eighty-one days later, the blended family ate supper and watched TV together July 20, 2017. Kedrowitz is the son of McCartney and Brian Kedrowitz, currently incarcerated at New Castle Correctional Facility after pleading guilty to child molesting. Nathaniel Ritz's parents were Stephen Ritz and another woman, not McCartney.

The teen told detectives he helped get the meal ready, cleaned up afterwards and did some laundry.

Around 11 p.m. McCartney asked Nickalas to tuck Nathaniel, now 11 months, into bed while she went into her bedroom to change. After a few minutes, the son told his mother, "'Something is not right with Nathaniel, he is not acting right,'" according to the affidavit. Kedrowitz reported "he noticed Nathaniel was not moving, so he went and checked on him and he was cold and looked bright white."

Another 911 call and CPR. Once again paramedics and police took the child to MMH shortly after midnight. "The next day Nathaniel Ritz was pronounced dead."

Hamilton County Coroner's Office forensic pathologist Dr. Dorothy Dean performed an autopsy July 22, 2017, but was unable to determine the cause of death. "The autopsy examination did not reveal evidence of acute injury, congenital anomalies, a toxicology agent or any infectious etiology. Dr. Dean indicated that further investigative correlative information was recommended," the affidavit stated.

Red flags started to be raised about "two investigations that did have some overlap. Both acts happened at the same home in Osgood," the prosecutor pointed out.

When asked about prevention of the second death, Hertel advised, "I think you'll have to talk to the Department of Child Services about that ... I don't think now is a particularly great time to cast stones at another agency. Now we want to work together to move forward and achieve some sort of justice .... and hold the individual accountable who committed the crimes."

The office of Michelle Russell, IDCS director in Ripley County, Versailles, had no comment later Sept. 12. The Herald-Tribune was referred to IDCS director of communications Erin Murphy, Indianapolis, to get questions answered. Noelle Russell, deputy director of communications, did not answer specifics, saying, "Unfortunately, Indiana confidentiality laws prohibit us from commenting on DCS involvement (or lack thereof) with a family."

ISP began learning about "rather disturbing statements that the 13-year-old was making to ... some of the other family members ... who were not in the home at the time of either death. Following that, Pandora's box started opening up," reported the prosecutor.

On Sept. 11, 2017, Miller and Tressler interviewed Bob and Candice Barker, a great-uncle and -aunt with whom the teen sometimes stayed when his uncle and guardian was at work. "Candice said Nickalas was currently failing all of his classes and also had been involved in some fights (at school) ... Candice said his temper was so bad sometimes he reminded her of the 'Hulk.'"

The great-aunt told investigators the week before Kedrowitz had mutilated two kittens. One had scratched him "and he got mad and squeezed (it) really hard" to the point its insides were hanging out, it was blood soaked and had to be destroyed by the great-uncle.

The detectives questioned Kedrowitz at his uncle's home Dec. 13, 2017. The teen declared he was a Christian and had a Bible. "Nickalas then began to tell us about some dreams he had after they had died. Nickalas started talking about saving Desiree and Nathaniel from hell and the chains of fire. Nickalas said he had help from an angel to free them."

They asked about how the children had died. Kedrowitz was crying when he admitted putting a towel over Desiree's head on the floor outside of the tub "to set her free to heaven." He also put a blanket over Nathaniel's head.

Kedrowitz said "he just didn't want them to live in the hell that he had to live in." When asked to define hell, the young man replied, "Chores." He had a list of many duties, according to Miller.

The teen told his great-aunt a day later he pressed the blanket down on the 11-month-old where his nose and mouth would be and also killed his half sister to protect them from Ritz, according to the legal document.

Hertel recalled, "The cause of death was somewhat uncertain at the time. Once they got this clearer history (Kedrowitz statements), they were able to amend their findings." In a Jan. 22 amended autopsy report, Looman ruled Desiree McCartney's cause of death was asphyxia due to smothering, "by history and the manner of death as a homicide. Dr. Looman reported that due to the new information learned by the investigators and the psychological evaluations, she was able to come to that conclusion."

Likewise, Dean changed her autopsy report Jan. 18 to state Nathaniel Ritz died due to "asphyxia due to smothering."

More investigation resulted in the now 14-year-old being detained under a Ripley County court order Aug. 28. Kedrowitz was taken to the Dearborn County Juvenile Detention Center, Lawrenceburg, where he waited for two days until Ripley Circuit Court Judge Ryan King found the juvenile to be "a danger to himself and the community" during a detention hearing.

On Sept. 6 the prosecutor's office filed a petition alleging delinquency and two counts of murder in juvenile court. During a Sept. 10 initial hearing, "several things did happen," according to Hertel. Kedrowitz was read the petition against him, the judge ordered a competency evaluation and a second attorney was appointed.

The state filed a petition to waive the teen into adult court. Before that decision is made, a competency hearing must occur. The prosecutor explained, "This child will be evaluated by two doctors," who will submit reports to the court. The judge will decide if Kedrowitz is competent to stand trial. "Does he understand the proceedings around him and can he assist in his own defense?"

If found incompetent, the young man would be placed in a facility until he gains competence. If that happens, "we will move forward in a trial."

The juvenile is "obviously very young" to be waived into adult court, Hertel acknowledged. Indiana Code states three conditions must be met: the crime has to be murder, there is probable cause and the defendant must be at least 12, "unless it's in the best interest of the child to stay in juvenile court and of the safety and welfare of the community." The prosecutor said he believed the petition to waive is appropriate, but the judge will decide.

He has never charged a child this young with murder before. "It didn't come without some discussion" with Indiana State Police. "There is some concern" if Kedrowitz's case is kept in juvenile court, he could be released from a facility at 18.

"I can't predict the future. If we base future behavior on past behavior, we potentially look at additional problems of great magnitude."

He said the two adults, McCartney and Ritz, have been "fairly cooperative ... about what they recalled." They have moved away from Osgood, the mother to Indianapolis, and both have lawyers now.

Hertel said, "I wouldn't rule out the possibility" of those adults facing charges. "Right now the focus is on Nickalas. Whether they were negligent or should have done something, I don't know if it rises to the level of criminal conduct."

"I won't say I wasn't surprised and shocked at what happened here," he said, emphasizing, "Nickalas is presumed innocent until proven guilty" in either juvenile or adult court.

"It's a puzzle. I think the pieces that law enforcement have put together paint the picture. Are there some pieces we'd like to have? Sure." Lacking videos of events, "we'll never know exactly what happened."

When asked about the teen's motivation to kill two young children, the prosecutor answered, "I don't know. Maybe the doctors who examine him can shed some light."

"In my time here, 19 years, I'm not sure I've seen anything so disturbing, so final as something like this."

Debbie Blank can be contacted at debbie.blank@batesvilleheraldtribune.com or 812-934-4343, Ext. 113.