April 17, 2014

Financial restraining order denied in killings of Rock Hill girl, grandmother

Efforts to prevent the Rock Hill man accused of killing his wife and granddaughter from disposing of any of his financial assets were defeated in court Thursday when a judge ruled the granddaughter’s maternal uncle did not have the legal right to make that request.

Efforts to prevent the Rock Hill man accused of killing his wife and granddaughter from disposing of any of his financial assets were defeated in court Thursday when a judge ruled the granddaughter’s maternal uncle did not have the legal right to make that request.

After listening to arguments from lawyers representing both sides of the girl’s family, Circuit Court Judge John Hayes opted not to grant a temporary restraining order that would have enjoined Ronald Fred Gregory and his children, Kevin Gregory and Kristie Hawkins, from selling his five cars, emptying his Social Security and pension accounts or withdrawing money from his bank account.

Gregory, 67, has been in jail without bond for nearly a month after deputies say he shot and killed his wife, Barbara Gregory, 71, and their 9-year-old granddaughter, Mia Rodgers, on March 21 before turning the gun on himself. His attempt at suicide was unsuccessful. Prosecutors allege he withdrew $25,000 the day before he shot his wife and granddaughter. He then withdrew a $14,000 cashier’s check written out to his daughter, Kristie Hawkins, according to court documents.

Last week, Mia’s maternal uncle, Eric Rodgers, filed a motion for a restraining order asking a judge to bar Ronald Gregory and his children from liquidating any of Ronald Gregory’s assets. The filing, prepared by Rock Hill attorney Randy Hood, states that Mia’s half-brother, Alexander, will eventually be the heir to her estate, giving him right to file suit against Ronald Gregory, Mia’s accused killer, and to allege a wrongful death action Hood says he soon plans to file.

“His house and cars should not be sold ... his pension and Social Security should not be depleted,” Hood said.

Eric Rodgers has custody of Alexander and, in January, filed court papers requesting custody of Mia, a desire he says his sister detailed in her will. Mia’s mother, Angie Rodgers Benoit of Texas, died of leukemia last November.

During an emergency hearing on the restraining order in York on Thursday, attorney Dan D’Agostino, who represents Kevin Gregory and Hawkins, said Mia has two other siblings born to Kevin Gregory, making them joint heirs of Mia’s estate. He argued that Kevin Gregory is the representative for Mia’s estate and Hawkins will be appointed representative of Barbara Gregory’s estate, giving both of them responsibility over those estates. That means, D’Agostino said, that only Kevin Gregory and Hawkins can file legal action against their father on behalf of their dead loved ones.

“In all likelihood, we’ll be filing wrongful death actions on behalf of both Mia’s estate and Barbara Gregory’s estate” against Ronald Gregory, D’Agostino said after the hearing. “We’ll make that decision at the appropriate time.”

Eric Rodgers did not attend Thursday’s hearing because he is in Canada on business, Hood said. His father, Paul Rodgers, sat in his place. He declined to comment after the hearing.

New allegations surfaced on Thursday when Hood claimed Kevin Gregory learned Benoit took out a $2 million insurance policy on Mia and wanted custody of the girl because he would get $1 million of that sum. D’Agostino said Kevin Gregory was unaware of the policy and further explained that Benoit made her mother, Nina Rodgers, the beneficiary of her insurance policy and provided an affidavit Nina Rodgers apparently signed admitting that she became the beneficiary last June. Court documents show that action has been contested in Texas by Benoit’s ex-husband, who claims it violates temporary terms agreed upon in a divorce proceeding. Because that litigation is pending and scheduled for trial next year, Hayes did not make a ruling about the policy claims.

Eric Rodgers claims Kevin Gregory last year submitted a false affidavit in family court about his role in Mia’s upbringing. Hood said that Kevin Gregory never financially supported his daughter. But, D’Agostino rebuffed those claims, introducing photo evidence showing that Kevin Gregory was always involved in the girl’s life. Those photos include “birthdays, Christmases, summer vacations ... Easters, giving her gifts, opening gifts,” he said.

In an affidavit filed in civil court on Thursday, Kevin Gregory says he loved his daughter and is “devastated by what has occurred and now shocked by the Rodger’s (sic) actions in pursuing money.”

“I was trying to grieve and process this loss and then I got served with these papers,” Kevin Gregory says in the affidavit, continuing that Benoit did not seek money from him. Mia, he claims, was to live with him at the end of this school year.

When Benoit moved to Texas, where Mia was born, the Gregorys visited, D’Agostino said. Mia moved to Rock Hill last year when a family court judge granted temporary custody to the Gregorys. Kevin Gregory was appointed personal representative of Mia’s estate just on Wednesday, probate court records show.

“The reason why he didn’t seek to be appointed sooner is he has been dealing with the grief of having lost his mother and his daughter,” D’Agostino said. “He really wasn’t thinking about suing people. He was trying to grieve with his family.”

Because Kevin Gregory is Mia’s estate representative, only he can bring a wrongful death action on her behalf – not Alex Rodgers.

Rock Hill lawyer Bruce Poore, who represented the Gregorys in the family court battle for Mia last year, said he now represents Ronald Gregory in any civil action. He agreed with D’Agostino, saying he does not understand how Alex Rodgers “has any cause of action” to file suit. For several minutes, the lawyers debated probate law until Hayes decided he would not grant Eric Rodgers’ motion because the uncle did not have legal standing to file actions on the girl’s behalf.

“Kevin loved his daughter and loved his parents,” D’Agostino said. “Kristie loved her niece and loved her parents. They don’t understand what happened. They’re devastated and they have been focusing on trying to process the tragedy that has occurred. It is unfortunate that they found themselves being sued in civil court over money, while they’re still trying to understand what has happened.”

After the hearing, Hood said he does not consider Hayes’ decision a “setback.”

“We intend to pursue any and all available options,” Hood said, “which may include any action to remove any person appointed as a personal representative of the estate or to petition to have Eric Rodgers formally appointed” as Mia’s representative.

Even if Eric Rodgers were not appointed, Hood said he would work with “whoever is appointed at the end to assist them in any way to obtain maximum recovery for beneficiaries of the estate.”

Under probate law, the next in line after Kevin Gregory would be Mia’s siblings, meaning whomever represents them would become the representative. If, for some reason, the probate court disqualifies Kevin Gregory, then Alex Rodgers’ representative – Eric Rodgers – would be appointed, Hood said.

Ronald Gregory’s two murder charges are pending.

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