A Sturgis teenager was sentenced earlier this month to 55 years in prison after he fatally shot and hid the body of a Wyoming girl inside his closet last fall.
Judge Kevin Krull handed down the sentence to 17-year-old Michael Campbell at the Meade County Court in Sturgis. Campbell will be able to seek parole after 27.5 years, when he is 44.5 years old.
Campbell, who was charged as an adult, pleaded guilty in May to first-degree manslaughter after admitting to shooting 16-year-old Shayna Ritthaler in the head at his Sturgis home some time between Oct. 4 and 7, 2019.
Shelly Ritthaler said her granddaughter loved horses, hunting, and working on the family ranch alongside her grandfather, according to Michele Bordewyk, Meade County state’s attorney.
Bordewyk said that instead of trying to help Ritthaler or call 911 after he shot her, Campbell "sat around for half an hour feeling guilty about what he had done and thinking about how he ruined his life."
She said Campbell eventually realized his parents would be home soon so he tried to clean up the crime scene and put Ritthaler in the closet after wrapping her in blankets.
"Then he went and ate dinner with his parents. He just went on with his life," Bordewyk said. He confessed when law enforcement interviewed him on Oct. 7.
Campbell originally pleaded not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity to alternate counts of first- and second-degree murder.
Bordewyk and defense lawyer Steven Titus both agreed to ask for the 55-year sentence as part of the plea deal. The plea deal also says Campbell will give up his right to appeal.
The sentence serves as "retribution for killing Shayna" while giving Campbell the chance for parole and to "change for the better" if he takes advantage of mental health and addiction counseling while in prison, Bordewyk said.
Titus said that Campbell and his family struggle with drug and alcohol addiction, and Campbell and Ritthaler were both intoxicated when he shot her. He also said his client has a low IQ and developmental disabilities.
“The ball is in his court," Titus said. "He has to be a productive member in corrections or he will serve possibly the rest of his life in prison. It’s up to him to get the help he needs."
Campbell "initially offered no apology to Shayna or her family or indicated that he felt remorse for his actions," Bordewyk said. "He was mainly preoccupied with how his life has been negatively affected."
But Titus said his client admitted responsibility by pleading guilty and knows what he did was wrong.
"I am deeply sorry for what I have done to your family. I wish I didn't do what I did," Campbell told the Ritthaler family in court, according to a copy of his hand-written note provided by Titus. "I took a life from your family and I see that whenever I wake up and whenever I go to sleep."
Ritthaler's family displayed a photo of her as they spoke, Bordewyk said. Shelly said their lives are incomplete without their loved one, and while she isn't ready to forgive Campbell, she has prayed for his family because she knows they are suffering too. Kenda and Katie Ford spoke about how much they love their niece and cousin.
Campbell and Ritthaler met on a chatting and dating website app and had been communicating there for a while before they made a plan to meet in person and for Ritthaler to run away and live with Campbell, Bordewyk previously said.
Ritthaler — who is from Upton, Wyoming — went missing Oct. 3, 2019 after being seen getting into a Jeep-like vehicle at a coffee shop in Moorcroft, Wyoming. Investigators later learned Campbell was the driver of the vehicle, which belonged to his mother.
Ritthaler was found dead Oct. 7 in the basement of the home Campbell shared with his mother in a subdivision east of Sturgis.
"Initially all he had told law enforcement is that the two were arguing and he went upstairs and got a gun and shot Shayna," Bordewyk said.
But she said Campbell gave investigators more details after pleading guilty.
According to Bordewyk: Campbell said he and Ritthaler had a nice time on Oct. 3 but got in a fight over their relationship the next afternoon while they were drinking alcohol in his basement bedroom.
Campbell said Ritthaler hit him so he went upstairs. He said he continued drinking while she stopped. Campbell said Ritthaler was still mad and yelled at him when he returned, which made him angry so he went back upstairs to take a loaded handgun from his parents' bedroom. Campbell also said he thought Ritthaler may try to use a knife on him. He returned to the basement, hid the gun behind his leg and shot Ritthaler as she walked toward him.
Campbell will be detained at the Meade County Jail until next week when he turns 18 and is transferred to prison, Titus said.