Little Hocking man sentenced in 2016 robbery

MARIETTA — Prison time will be “a speed bump” on the path to a better life, said a Little Hocking man sentenced to four years of incarceration Thursday for his role in an armed home invasion in Belpre in January 2016.

William “Billy” Mitchell, 20, of 3261 School House Road, said he has spent the year since he committed the crime with three others transforming from being “a punk” to being a man.

While addressing Washington County Common Pleas Judge Randall Burnworth during his sentencing hearing, Mitchell said his old life consisted of sleeping all day and using marijuana after the devastation of losing his father at a young age.

“I didn’t really care about anybody, I didn’t care about myself…I only wanted what could make me happy in that moment,” he said. “It was wrong, it was selfish and I’ve realized I can’t go about life that way.”

Mitchell and co-defendants Aaron Ratliff, 22, of Belpre, Zachary Ratliff, 21, of Belpre and James Ault, 20, of Parkersburg, broke into a home at 2509 Valley View Drive, Belpre and held hostage Jon Bettinger, his son Justin Wiley and three other juveniles while robbing them of $300 and marijuana, officials said. The men were wearing masks and brandishing a gun, knife and machete, according to Belpre Police.

Washington County Prosecutor Kevin Rings said at one point Mitchell pointed a gun at Bettinger and threatened to kill him and then fired a shot into the wall. For that reason, he asked that Mitchell receive a prison term of six years rather than the four years to which his co-defendants had already been sentenced.

“The firearm was discharged and it’s clear that Mr. Mitchell was the one who discharged it,” Rings said.

Mitchell’s defense attorney, George Cosenza, asked the judge to consider Mitchell’s young age as well as the fact that all four men committed the crime together.

“I think it would be a mistake to accept the perception of the prosecution about his level of culpability…I don’t believe it’s the correct perception,” he said. “Every one of those boys went into the house equally responsible for what went on there. I think it is wrong to punish Mr. Mitchell and give him a larger sentence.”

Cosenza pointed out that one of the other men carried a knife, also a deadly weapon.

“I’m not arguing that he not get a prison sentence but he should not be singled out,” he said. “It’s simply not fair.”

Since his arrest, Mitchell has gotten married, had a baby and obtained a full-time job, Cosenza said, as well as staying drug-free and disassociating with any bad influences.

“This is a very, very young guy who’s completely turned his life around and I’m so darn proud of him,” he said. “He’s remorseful about what happened and he knows he’s going to miss at least four years of his young baby’s life.”

Mitchell said having a baby in September opened his eyes.

“I grew up, I put my boots on and I provided for my baby,” he said, wiping away tears. “I just want to do what’s right and every day I’ve worked toward that.”

Burnworth sentenced Mitchell to four years for each of three first-degree felony charges, which included aggravated burglary, aggravated robbery and kidnapping. The sentences will be served concurrently and he will be credited with four days already served.

Mitchell will also have five years of post-release control and be responsible for court costs. He was not assigned restitution for damages to the wall he shot as the victims failed to produce receipts for repairs, said Burnworth.


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