Thirty minutes after firing a bullet into his bedridden wife’s chest and watching her die, Ronald Fred Gregory aimed a gun at his 9-year-old granddaughter’s heart and pulled the trigger, prosecutors told a judge Monday afternoon.
He cradled Mia Rodgers for the next hour as she lay dying – asking her paternal grandfather when the pain would stop.
In a York County courtroom, where Mia’s other grandparents and Gregory’s own children watched and wailed, Ronald Fred Gregory, 68, pleaded guilty but mentally ill to two counts of murder and one count of possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime.
Circuit Court Judge John Hayes ruled Gregory will spend the rest of his life in a state prison, where he’ll receive treatment for a mental illness – a condition that, before their father killed their mother, his son and daughter were unaware he had.
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Gregory was arrested March 21 after he dialed 911 and suggested that dispatchers send police – not medical help – to his Idlewild Drive home just outside Rock Hill city limits, said 16th Circuit Solicitor Kevin Brackett. Once York County Sheriff’s deputies entered the locked house through a kitchen window, they found Gregory in Mia’s bedroom. Two gunshot wounds were in his chest.
Lying beside him was Mia Rodgers, a student at Mount Gallant Elementary School, dead from a gunshot wound in her chest. Police also found Gregory’s wife and Mia’s grandmother, 71-year-old Barbara Gregory, dead in the living room.
Almost immediately, Gregory admitted to authorities that he shot his wife and granddaughter before turning the gun on himself. When the first bullet didn’t kill him, he shot himself again.
He was treated at Piedmont Medical Center and, after his release, charged with murder and kept at the York County Detention Center. He was indicted by the York County grand jury in May, weeks after he opted to forgo hiring an attorney and to represent himself.
A York County magistrate initially approved Gregory for a public defender, but Judge Hayes rescinded that decision when prosecutors argued the murder suspect possessed too many financial assets, including a home, several cars and more than $600,000 in a retirement account, and could afford to retain his own lawyer.
Police discovered Gregory withdrew about $40,000 before and after the shootings. He sent his daughter a text message saying should anything happen to him, there would be money for her and her brother.
In interviews with detectives, Gregory, retired from Duke Power, explained that he had been planning to kill his wife and granddaughter for several weeks. He said he was afraid Mia Rodgers, whom he and his wife had been raising since October when they won a custody dispute against the girl’s maternal grandparents, would suffer a brain injury and become a “vegetable” after she inhaled glue fumes when he took her to get fake press-on nails. Doctors told him the girl would be fine.
He also said he had been thinking about harming himself for some time because he had been under “a lot of pressure” and lost a lot of weight, Brackett said. He wasn’t worried about losing custody of Mia and did not feel caring for his helpless wife was a burden. Instead, he chose to kill them because he didn’t want them to be alone should something happen to him.
Psychiatrists determined that Gregory was aware of the severity of his crimes, and thus competent to stand trial, said Hayes, reading from a mental evaluation report. Still, a doctor determined that he suffered from a “mental defect” that prevented him from controlling his “mental faculties.”
Gregory’s daughter, Kristie Hawkins, told Hayes that she and her brother were unaware of her father’s mental illness until he admitted to killing their mother. Sobbing, Hawkins begged Hayes to hand down a sentence that would allow her father to receive treatment for his sickness.
“We have dealt with pain, hurt, confusion and unimaginable, indescribable devastation,” Hawkins said. “My brother and I lost our mother. He lost his daughter and I lost my niece. Our children lost their grandmother, and a sister and cousin in Mia. We lost our father that day.”
Neither of Gregory’s children wanted him to suffer the death penalty. Kevin Gregory, Mia’s father, cried in his seat and did not address the court.
Gregory remained silent as Brackett read aloud the grisly details of his crimes. The solicitor gave Gregory’s account of how he aimed a gun at his wife’s heart and fired as she sat in the living room at 1:30 a.m.. Thirty minutes later, he walked into Mia Rodgers’ room as she slept, aimed a gun at her chest and fired. Unlike her grandmother, Mia didn’t die instantly but remained alive for another hour. Gregory took her into his arms to comfort her. He acknowledged to deputies he could have helped save the dying girl by taking her to the hospital.
He chose otherwise.
Monday was the first time the victims’ families heard any of those details. There was a shrieking cry that came from one family member and tears fell from the faces of several others.
Paul Rodgers, Mia’s maternal grandfather, told Hayes the loss of Mia has affected his entire family. He briefly mentioned the bitter custody battle involving both sets of Mia’s grandparents before he said: “I just hope that the court finds justice in this today.”
Because Gregory was accused of killing two people and his granddaughter was so young, prosecutors could have sought the death penalty. But, Brackett said, Gregory’s children did not support capital punishment against their father. More, preparing a death penalty case would have delayed Gregory’s trial by another year or two, and a lengthy appeals process could have taken so long that it’s likely “the calendar would have killed Mr. Gregory ... sooner than the state of South Carolina could,” Brackett said.
Calling it one of the worst cases he’s ever prosecuted, Brackett asked Hayes to sentence Gregory to life in prison. The judge agreed.
Gregory declined to speak in court when Hayes gave him the chance.
Brackett read from a statement Gregory gave deputies after his release from the hospital. After explaining how and why he killed his wife and granddaughter, he told them: “I have thought about it a million times over since ... and I wish that I had not done it.”
In prison, he will live among other convicted murderers while receiving treatment for his mental illness.