April 22, 2014

Rock Hill man charged in 2 killings denied public defender

A judge ruled Tuesday morning that the Rock Hill man charged with murder in the shooting deaths of his wife and granddaughter should not be represented by a public defender because he has more than $600,000 in a retirement account.

A judge stripped a double-murder suspect of a taxpayer-funded public defender Tuesday because he has more than $600,000 in a retirement account.

Ronald Fred Gregory, 67, is accused of shooting his invalid wife, Barbara Gregory, and their 9-year-old granddaughter, Mia Rodgers, on March 21, in the midst of a custody dispute with Mia’s maternal grandparents. Gregory also shot himself twice in a suicide attempt, police documents show.

Tuesday’s hearing was the first time prosecutors in York County have asserted that a defendant who already had been assigned a public defender should have that right taken away because he didn’t fully disclose his assets.

Circuit Court Judge John Hayes III ruled that Gregory has plenty of money to hire a private lawyer in the criminal case, even if he would have to pay bank penalties for withdrawing the money.

Gregory’s accounts are “expensively liquid,” Hayes said, but he can use that money to pay for his defense.

“I find that someone with assets of more than a half-million dollars – unless lawyer costs have skyrocketed – is sufficient,” Hayes said. “Taxpayers should not bear the cost of someone who has more than a half-million dollars.”

The decision comes after civil and probate lawsuits were filed to keep Gregory from spending money that would belong to the estates of his late wife and granddaughter.

Because Mia was younger than 10, and Gregory is charged with killing more than one person, prosecutors could seek the death penalty. After the hearing, 16th Circuit Solicitor Kevin Brackett said he has not decided whether he will seek the death penalty.

While it is unclear how much a death penalty defense would cost, it is clear that Gregory – who remains jailed without bond while awaiting trial – would have to spend some of his holdings on lawyers.

In arguing against Gregory having a public defender, Brackett gave Judge Hayes documentation showing that Gregory, who is retired from Duke Power, has more than $600,000 in a retirement account. He also owns a house, several vehicles and almost $85,000 in other cash assets.

Police have alleged that Gregory withdrew almost $40,000 in cash from bank accounts before and after the shootings.

When Gregory appeared before a magistrate after his arrest in late March, Brackett said, he failed to tell that judge – who went on to assign Gregory a public defender – about the retirement accounts.

Dan D’Agostino, lawyer for the estates of Barbara Gregory and Mia Rodgers, said Tuesday that Ronald Gregory is not entitled to any of the financial holdings that were shared with Barbara Gregory or Mia. He did acknowledge that the retirement account belongs solely to Ronald Gregory.

Sixteenth Circuit Chief Public Defender Harry Dest did not argue Tuesday that he should stay on as Gregory’s attorney. He did question whether prosecutors had legal standing to challenge Gregory’s indigence, saying he had never seen the issue come up in a quarter-century as a public defender.

The issue wasn’t Brackett trying to “get you off the case,” Hayes told Dest, it was making sure that the only the truly poor get a public defender.

Dest said he had advised Gregory to invoke his right to remain silent, and Gregory said nothing in court Tuesday.

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