At the same time Thursday afternoon that the final shovels of dirt filled the graves of his wife and the 9-year-old granddaughter he had fought for custody of, Ronald Fred Gregory shuffled into a first court appearance for allegedly killing them last week.
Gregory, 67, was denied bond because he faces two counts of murder and a weapons charge for allegedly shooting his invalid wife Barbara Gregory, 71, then killing his granddaughter, Mia Rodgers, 9. Gregory shot himself twice in a suicide attempt but survived and spent six days in the hospital. He appeared in court wearing a quilted padded uniform intended to keep inmates safe from themselves because court officials said Gregory is on suicide watch. Gregory could face a death penalty trial if prosecutors decide to seek capital punishment.
16th Circuit Solicitor Kevin Brackett declined to discuss the case or any potential decision to seek the death penalty, saying he hasn’t received a case file yet and has not talked to the victims.
Yet even before prosecutors make a decision on whether to try and put Gregory in the electric chair for a double murder that includes a child, Gregory’s mental status at the time of the crimes - while he had custody of Mia - is being questioned by his court-appointed lawyers.
And in this case - with a contested custody battle at the center of the killings - the victims already are at odds. One victim is Kevin Gregory, the son of the accused as well as the son and father of the dead. The victims also include Mia’s maternal grandparents, who remain bewildered and irate that Ronald Gregory whose mental competency is in question ever was given custody in the first place. The maternal grandparents, Paul and Nina Rodgers, say they raised Mia most of her life but lost custody in October. Mia’s mother died from leukemia in November.
“We have been asking for months why would this man want custody of Mia and claim to want to raise her when he could barely take care of him and his wife?” said Paul Rodgers, Mia’s maternal grandfather. “Why would they want custody of Mia in the first place? And now after he kills her there is concern about if he was competent when Mia died?”
In court Thursday Gregory was asked if he was married and Gregory first said “yes,” and when asked if his wife works he answered “no.” He then corrected himself and told Magistrate Judge Dan Malphrus about his wife: “She passed on.”
When Malphrus, the judge, asked Gregory if he understood the crimes that he had been charged with, Gregory replied, “You put down the two murders, right?”
Gregory even admitted in court that he used to receive retirement benefits but “stopped them two or three weeks ago.”
Gregory did not say why he stopped his benefits just days before the alleged crimes of killing his wife and grandchild, then trying to kill himself.
Gregory also asked Malphrus “where am I going to be now?” Malphrus told Gregory that he would now be residing in the Moss Justice Center Detention Center, charged with two counts of murder. Any correspondence from here on in, Malphrus told Gregory, can be mailed to the jail.
Gregory told Malphrus he owned a home, two vehicles and a motor home, but Malphrus still allowed Gregory to be appointed a public defender. Malphrus told Gregory that he was not his lawyer and could not give legal advice, but he told Gregory he would be wise not to talk about the case. Gregory said that he already met with a public defender after his arrest just minutes before who also had told him not to talk about the case.
The lead York County Sheriff’s Office detectives who handled the investigation, Capt Jerry Hoffman and Lt. W.J Miller, were in the courtroom but did not address the court. Both declined to comment afterward on what Gregory told police at the scene or in interviews afterward in the six days Gregory was hospitalized after shooting himself. The police report from the incident states that Gregory admitted the shootings of both his wife and granddaughter when deputies arrived at the crime scene.
Harry Dest, 16th Circuit Chief Public Defender, said he met with Gregory before the court hearing and already has “very serious concerns” about Gregory’s mental state at the time that both Barbara Gregory and Mia Rodgers were killed.
“I also have very serious concerns about his current mental state,” Dest said.
Gregory appeared in court disheveled, with a scar or wound at his throat, and shuffling. Malphrus, the judge, had to explain what was happening to Gregory in basic, even childlike, terms.
Deputy 16th Circuit Public Defender B.J. Barrowclough, in the courtroom as one of Gregory’s lawyers, said after court Gregory’s demeanor immediately threw up “red flags” about Gregory’s mental state.
Rock Hill Police had two officers at the funeral because of concerns from Mia Rodgers’ maternal side about any problems that might happen between the Gregorys and the Rodgers, but the services went off without incident. But afterward Nina Rodgers, Mia’s maternal grandmother, said that in the viewing of Mia’s body it was clear that Mia had injuries to her head and chest.
“She looked so helpless,” Nina Rodgers said of her granddaughter. “She had this big knot on her head.”
Paul Rodgers, the maternal grandfather, said he is relieved that Ronald Gregory has finally been jailed and that the justice system, and the potential of the death penalty, can now be sorted out by prosecutors.
“Maybe now we can all find out why this man did this to our granddaughter,” Paul Rodgers said. “But this never should have happened. If Mia wasn’t there in his custody, that he and his family fought for, it wouldn’t have happened. She would be alive. But she is dead and they say Ronald Gregory who wanted to raise her killed her.”