YORK — At the same time Thursday afternoon that the final shovels of dirt filled the graves of his wife and granddaughter, Ronald Fred Gregory shuffled into a court appearance over charges that he killed them last week.
Gregory, 67, was denied bond because he faces two counts of murder and a weapons charge after police say he shot his invalid wife, Barbara Gregory, 71, then killed his granddaughter, Mia Rodgers, 9.
Gregory shot himself twice 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. Kevin Brackett, 16th Circuit solicitor, declined to discuss the case or any potential decision to seek the death penalty, saying he hasnt received a case file yet and has not talked to surviving family members. Yet even before prosecutors make a decision on whether to try to put Gregory in the electric chair if he is found guilty of the double murder that includes a child, Gregorys court-appointed lawyers are questioning his mental status at the time of the crimes while he had custody of Mia.
And in this case with a custody battle happening amidst the killings surviving family members are at odds.
One family member, Kevin Gregory, is the son of the accused as well as the son and father of the dead.
Others include Mias maternal grandparents, who remain bewildered and irate that Ronald Gregory was given custody in the first place. Paul and Nina Rodgers say they raised Mia most of her life but lost custody in October. Mias 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, Mias 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 asked Gregory if he understood the crimes that he had been charged with, Gregory replied, You put down the two murders, right?
Gregory said 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 at that point.
Gregory also asked Malphrus, Where am I going to be now? Malphrus told Gregory that he would 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 allowed Gregory 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 had already met with a public defender just minutes before who also had told him not to talk about the case.
The lead York County Sheriffs 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 Gregorys 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. 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 Gregorys lawyers, said after court Gregorys demeanor immediately threw up red flags about his mental state.
Rock Hill Police had two officers at Thursdays funerals because of concerns from Mia Rodgers maternal family about problems that might happen between the Gregorys and the Rodgerses, but the services went off without incident. But afterward Nina Rodgers, Mias maternal grandmother, said that in the viewing of Mias 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 wasnt there in his custody, that he and his family fought for, it wouldnt have happened. She would be alive. But she is dead and they say Ronald Gregory who wanted to raise her killed her.