The Rock Hill man charged with killing his wife and granddaughter in March was among 230 accused criminals members of a York County grand jury indicted on Thursday, setting the stage for prosecutors to move forward with the case and closer to a possible trial.
Ronald Fred Gregory, 67, has been formally indicted on two counts of murder and one count of possession of a weapon during a violent crime. According to the indictment, signed by the grand jury’s forewoman, Gregory “willfully and with malice aforethought” shot and killed Barbara Gregory, his 71-year-old disabled wife, and their 9-year-old granddaughter, Mia Rodgers, on March 21.
When deputies arrived at the Idlewild Drive home, they found Gregory suffering from two gunshot wounds. He admitted to authorities that he shot his wife and granddaughter before apparently trying to commit suicide. Investigators later discovered that he withdrew about $40,000 before and after the shootings.
On Thursday, the 18-member grand jury heard law enforcement officers recite facts of the case behind closed doors. As they listened to the details of the slaying, jurors also heard cases about 229 other alleged criminals charged with various crimes.
The grand jury “true billed” all 230 indictments, indicating that all those defendants should be tried. They could have returned a “no bill” verdict if they thought no probable cause existed for the charge, or they felt the case required further investigation.
But Gregory’s was the only case presented to the grand jury in which a defendant had been charged with murder. He was the second defendant the grand jury indicted who is allegedly responsible for the death of another.
Also on Thursday, jurors returned a true bill indictment on Samuel White, a Rock Hill man charged with homicide by child neglect after police say he suffocated his 3-month-old daughter while sleeping in the bed with her.
Because Gregory is accused of killing two people and Mia Rodgers was younger than 10, prosecutors are able to seek the death penalty. But 16th Circuit Solicitor Kevin Brackett said Thursday he had not made a definitive decision about whether Gregory’s will become a capital case.
Death penalty cases tend to take a longer time to go to trial because defendants are entitled to a second attorney to represent them. That lawyer then has to familiarize himself with the case. More, the process whereby defendants can present mitigating circumstances on why a judge should be lenient on them is extended because defendants can call character witnesses to testify during the penalty phase, Brackett said.
“Now that we’ve reached this stage, we will make sure to give all discovery to the defense,” he said.
Seeking the death penalty is “not the overriding consideration in this case,” said Deputy 16th Circuit Solicitor Willy Thompson. The consideration, he said, is “that justice is done in this case.”
Prosecutors, he said, will examine the facts of the case and “balance that with many of the other concerns of the death penalty.”
Much of that concern, Thompson said, revolves around the victims’ family, which will have to consider whether enduring a capital case will bring them closure.
“This case is uniquely tragic,” he said.
The last time solicitors sought the death penalty in York County was against Bobby Holmes, accused of beating a retired school teacher to death in 1989. He had been twice convicted, but both cases were overturned, the first time by the S.C. Supreme Court and the second by the U.S. Supreme Court. After 15 years on death row and while preparing for a third trial, Holmes pleaded guilty in 2008 and received two life sentences.
Gregory does not yet have a trial date. And, despite warnings by a judge on the dangers of self-representation and questions about his mental state, Gregory still has not hired an attorney. A magistrate initially approved Gregory for a public defender, but that decision was overturned by a Circuit Court judge after prosecutors argued that he was not eligible for indigent defense because he did not fully disclose his assets, which include a house, several cars and more than $600,000 in a retirement account.