20-year-old Caitlin Ridgeway pleaded guilty in Onslow County Superior Court Friday, Nov. 1, 2019 to Second-degree murder as well as robbery with a dangerous weapon in regards to the July 2017 homicide of William Clifton.
Ridgeway was represented by Jacksonville defense attorney, Paul Castle. Castle said in the hearing proceedings that he had asked Ridgeway, “Do you blame your mother? Do you blame God? Who do you blame?” He continued, “Caitlin blames herself.” Castle said to the court that this case has a lot of, “uncomfortable truth” and there are many victims in this case, “at the defense table and represented by the state.”
Castle gave many condemnatory details to the court about Ridgeway’s family structure leading up to the fatal death of Clifton. He said, “When Caitlin was 16, she was alone in Will’s bedroom. Will asked Caitlin to come on the bed. Will and Caitlin’s relationship began.”
February 2017 Caitlin moved out of her family home with her mother due to tensions between her and her mother, Castle said.
The relationship between the then teenage girl and William Clifton began when he was still a deputy at the sheriff’s office.
It was further stated in court that Ridgeway’s mother, Daina Hendricks was married to a deputy, David Pickett who was close friends with Clifton. Hendricks is a nurse and has worked in the jail as a jailor nurse. Clifton originally had a romantic relationship with Hendrick’s prior to the romantic relationship with her daughter Ridgeway, Castle told the court.
Ridgeway was employed at Monsters Pizza, and had all of her credits to graduate high school but did not due to not completing her senior project the defense told the court.
The Honorable Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Charles Henry was presiding over the hearing and ordered Ridgeway complete a GED program and have a mental health evaluation.
Lynette Bush, the victims ex-wife and mother of his three children gave a calm yet passionate address to the court to tell Will’s life as she and their children see it. “He was an excellent father” and “there are only three victims as far as I see it and they’re his children,” in response to hearing the defense attorney Castle’s statements on victims on both sides. Bush said Clifton was a Marine who fought for this country proudly and overseas in Afghanistan. She continued on how much of an impact he had on their children’s lives in a positive way. Since Clifton was murdered, their youngest son had to leave Jacksonville because of conflicting matters surrounding their fathers death. Bush said she didn’t always approve of Clifton’s choices but he was a good man and a great father.
State Prosecutor ADA Bob Roupe said the gun used in the murder belonged to the co-defendant Will Welch’s father. The gun was kept under the fathers mattress in the home. Welch and Ridgeway had spent time together in the home leading up to the time of the murder, even on the night of said ADA Roupe. The two however were not present in the home during the time of the murder, “between 9:30-10:30 PM bases on evidence.”
The weapon was sent out for forensic examination at Fayetteville PD confirming that the co-defendants father’s weapon was in fact a match in the case, the prosecutor said.
The victim suffered numerous gunshot wounds to his body, suffered blunt force trauma to his skull where he was hit over the head with a baseball bat, and the prosecutor confirmed that there’s particular evidence given in the autopsy is consistent with strangulation. Roupe said, “a cord, rope…” was consistent with the wound to the neck of the victim, though a bat, cord or rope was never found. The co-defendant Welch admitted to the bat being used and by he himself. The prosecutor said Welch told investigators that Ridgeway pulled the trigger but she never would admitted doing so.
Ridgeway was sentenced by an Alford plea. The Alford Plea is where a defendant acknowledges the fact there is enough evidence for the state to reach a conviction, but doesn’t directly admit guilt.
Ridgeway’s co-defendant William Welch, pleaded guilty to the same charges back in March and he is awaiting sentencing now that he will not be utilized as a witness to testify against Ridgeway. ADA Roupe said that will likely happen in the next month or so.
These two were charged in the fatal shooting of 48-year-old former Onslow County deputy William Clifton, a resident of Richlands. Clifton had resigned from his position as a deputy during the time of his death and had other gainful employment.
Welch told detectives that he saw Clifton at Woodlands Park, hugging and kissing the then 17-year-old teen Caitlin Ridgeway. ADA Roupe stated that there has been no evidence rendered to show that the romantic relationship between the victim and the defendant Caitlin Ridgeway was not consensual, and the legal age of consent in the State of N.C. is 16. There are particular cases where charges may be brought forward for underage relationships like with teachers and coaches but not in this case, those elements were not met in any way.
Ridgeway was sentenced to serve a minimum of 24-years and a maximum of 32-years in the N.C. Dept. of Adult Corrections. The remaining charges for injury to personal property are dismissed as a part of the plea agreement and Ridgeway is not eligible for an appeal.
Watch the hearing live stream on The Onslow Beat FB.
Editors note: Caitlin Ridgeway’s name was spelled inconsistently in error as “Caitlyn” in the original publishing and has since been corrected in entirety.