Store owner given nightly jail time

January 21, 1994|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Staff Writer

The 74-year-old owner of a Harney general store, who pleaded guilty last year to molesting six young boys, was ordered yesterday to spend his nights for the next nine months in the county jail.

Luther I. Ridinger, owner of Ridinger's Store at Harney and Conover roads, was ordered to serve eight years in state prison, but Circuit Judge Luke K. Burns Jr. suspended all but nine months of the sentence.

The judge will allow Ridinger to operate his store -- Harney's only grocery -- during the day. Ridinger will be required to be at the Carroll County Detention Center in Westminster from 6 p.m. until 9 a.m. every day.

Ridinger pleaded guilty to four counts of battery, a count of third-degree sex offense and a count of fourth-degree sex offense last year. Prosecutors said he had been abusing the children over a period of seven years.

Judge Burns agreed to impose a sentence of no more than 10 years with eight years suspended.

Ridinger lashed out at what he sees as selective prosecution.

"These boys can come into my store and rip out my cash register, and nothing happens to them," he told the judge. "I go and touch a few boys, I get blamed and penned up and everything. It's not right. I'll do the best I can to keep from this act again."

His attorney, Ralph T. Uebersax, argued that Ridinger shouldn't be sent to jail because of his age. Assistant State's Attorney Kathi Hill said his age already was taken into consideration when she decided to recommend a maximum time behind bars of two years.

According to a statement of facts read by Ms. Hill, Ridinger would fondle boys in his store. Kathleen Lynch, a county child abuse investigator, began looking into the case in June, after the first of several people made allegations against Ridinger.

Ms. Lynch said Ridinger often sold candy to his young customers before he assaulted them.

The abuse occurred between 1986 and June 1993, Ms. Lynch said. The youngsters ranged in age from 2 to 15 years.

Child abuse investigators reported finding sexually explicit photographs, in Ridinger's living quarters. After Ridinger left the courtroom -- Judge Burns allowed him to begin his sentence at 9 p.m. Monday -- the father of one victim began to yell.

"You did a bad thing, Luther, you hurt my son," the man said. "You should go to jail for what you did."

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