Every Sunday, when Karen Bischoff Rea attends Fairfield Community Baptist Church in Eastview, she stops by the grave of her son, Ryan Birse.
She won’t wait until Sunday this week to visit, she said, after the man who shot Birse to death was found guilty of murder but mentally ill late Wednesday afternoon.
“I know he’s not there, but it’s such a peaceful, healing place for us,” Rea said.
A jury deliberated about two hours before finding Joshua Ratliff, 28, of Elizabethtown, guilty of Birse’s death on Feb. 25, 2016. Birse was 22.
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Ratliff shot Birse nine times as he worked at KFC-Taco Bell on Buffalo Creek Drive in Elizabethtown. Ratliff also worked there.
Ratliff faces 20 to 50 years or life in prison for the conviction. While incarcerated, he will receive treatment for his mental illness. According to the filings, Ratliff has been receiving care for mental illness since 2009 and has had two psychiatric hospitalizations.
Sentencing began at 9 a.m. Thursday in Hardin Circuit Court in Elizabethtown.
“It’s never behind us,” said Ryan’s father, Tim Birse. “It just closes one chapter in my life, I guess. Maybe we can start healing a little bit.”
Tim Birse and five of Ryan’s friends and relatives from Canada have been in Elizabethtown since last week. The trial started March 8.
“I’m just thinking of Ryan,” Tim Birse said with tears in his eyes outside the courtroom.
Elizabethtown defense attorney Wesley Durham entered a not-guilty plea by reason of insanity in the case. Moments after the jury of eight men and four women returned the verdict, Ratliff’s divorced parents embraced for several seconds as another relative sobbed in the front row of the gallery behind the defense.
Among those testifying Wednesday morning were Dr. Timothy Allen, who said he has examined Ratliff about 20 times during two stays at Kentucky Correctional Psychiatric Center over about four months in the last year.
“We have to evaluate his mental state on the day of the shooting,” Allen said.
He said he was certain that Ratliff could appreciate the criminality of his actions the night of the shooting.
Durham said in a 50-minute closing argument to the jury, “Everything at that time points to (Ratliff) being delusional at the time.”
Birse approached Ratliff two days before the shooting about placing his hands in chicken after removing them from dirty dishwater as he packed boxes of chicken, and about coughing around food. Ratliff often dealt with bronchitis.
The next day, Ratliff showed up at work — on a day off — and was told to leave.
On the day of the shooting, Ratliff again wasn’t scheduled to work. According to testimony, he drove to the restaurant in his vehicle, backed it up to a back door of the building, walked in dressed in black and went to the back of the store.
He stopped at the work schedule, rocked back and forth on his feet, walked toward Birse and said, “Hey, Ryan.” He then shot him in the side.
When Birse fell to the ground, Ratliff shot him eight times in the back.
After the verdict was read, Rea said her son told her he “was afraid of (Ratliff). He made the gun sign with his finger at him.”
“Ryan got in the car that Tuesday night and was so upset,” Rea said of her only son. “He was a really sensitive young man.”
Tim Birse said the verdict pleased him.
“I had faith in the people of Hardin County that justice would be served,” he said.
Whatever sentence Ratliff receives, he must serve the time, even if he completes the required treatment. He will be eligible for parole after serving 85 percent of his sentence.
“I still feel like this is all just a dream,” Rea said. “For (Ratliff’s) sake, I’m glad he’s getting treatment. I wouldn’t want Ryan’s death to be in vain.”
Wednesday was the fifth day of the trial, which included testimony from other KFC-Taco Bell employees, medical experts, police officers, Hardin County Detention Center employees and others.
Ratliff also was found guilty of first-degree wanton endangerment but mentally ill; first-degree wanton endangerment of a police officer but mentally ill; and first-degree fleeing or evading police in a motor vehicle but mentally ill.
“Ryan didn’t realize it that Tuesday night, but he signed his death warrant,” Commonwealth’s Attorney Shane Young said during his closing argument Wednesday. “(Ratliff) killed him because he was mad at him.”