Andrew Dys

Families battle on a year after Rock Hill man killed wife, granddaughter

Ronald Gregory
Ronald Gregory

The little girl, 9 years old, lay in the bed one year ago with her paternal grandfather. She was bleeding from a gunshot wound – the one inflicted by him.

He had already shot and killed his wife.

The grandfather lay there in the bed and listened to the little girl, with the blood and her life leaking out of her, ask: “Paw paw, when am I going to stop hurting?”

The hurt stopped for Mia Rodgers when her heart stopped beating. Gregory then tried to kill himself. He shot himself twice, but survived.

If anybody ever deserved the electric chair or lethal injection or firing squad it is Ronald Fred Gregory. Yet he will die in prison.

The carnage Gregory created on Idlewild Drive lives on.

A year later – the anniversary was Saturday – the court battles over the deaths of Barbara Gregory and Mia Rodgers have not stopped. The probate court and civil court lawsuit trials haven’t begun yet, but the proceedings are sure to re-open the wounds of as horrible a set of crimes inflicted in York County. The battle is now over money, and who gets it.

Gregory pulled the trigger after he claimed he wanted custody of Mia. He wanted to care for her so much that he killed her. It remains unclear if money was a factor in the crimes and the months-long court battles over custody of Mia.

Paul and Nina Rodgers, Mia’s maternal grandparents, and her maternal uncle Eric Rodgers are fighting to have Mia’s birth father removed from Mia’s estate in probate court. The birth father, Kevin Gregory, is fighting the attempt.

Kevin Gregory and his father had won custody in the months preceding the murders.

In civil court, Kevin Gregory and his sister filed a wrongful death lawsuit against their father on behalf of their slain mother. They want a death settlement.

After the probate case is finished, court documents show that Mia’s maternal family plans to file a wrongful death lawsuit against Ronald Fred Gregory, too.

All these lawsuits and claims all came from the custody battle – Gregory’s bullets.

Gregory, 68, pleaded guilty but mentally ill last summer and was sentenced to life without parole for killing his wife, an invalid in a wheelchair, and his granddaughter. Gregory had a house and vehicles and money in the bank and a retirement account from Duke Energy with about $1 million. Just before the killings, he had taken $40,000 out of the bank.

He refused to spend a nickel on a criminal lawyer despite spending thousands on lawyers and lawsuits to get custody of Mia.

He never gave any real reason for why he pulled the trigger. He went to prison after the court found he was mentally ill.

But the battle over Mia’s custody, which started in the family courts in Texas and South Carolina, remains.

The custody battle

In late 2013, after Mia’s mother died, Kevin Gregory, the girl’s father, filed for custody. The maternal grandparents, Paul and Nina Rodgers, balked, saying they had raised Mia almost exclusively when Mia was not with her mother.

The Rodgers said Kevin Gregory had almost no relationship with Mia. Kevin Gregory and his parents claimed otherwise, saying that Ronald and Barbara Gregory had helped raise Mia and that Kevin Gregory deserved joint custody with his parents.

A lawyer in Texas wrote that Kevin Gregory was willing to give up parental rights in that state. But Gregory changed his mind and filed legal action with his parents to try to get custody in both states, an affidavit states.

In South Carolina, the Gregorys eventually received custody in late 2013 after several Family Court hearings. There was no allegation of mental illness concerning Ronald Fred Gregory. Court officials – including a court-appointed guardian ad litem who was supposed to be looking out for Mia’s best interests – declared him a fit and loving grandparent. Ronald Fred Gregory had no criminal record at that time.

The lawsuits

After Mia was killed, her mother’s brother and her parents filed a lawsuit, claiming Kevin Gregory lied in court documents to get custody. They also said a wrongful death lawsuit against Ronald Gregory and maybe others would be filed after the probate action is settled. The lawsuit tried to have Kevin Gregory barred from depleting his father’s money.

But in probate court, where Mia’s estate is being decided, the Rodgers are still trying to get control of Mia’s survivorship status from Kevin Gregory.

Court documents filed in February by Rodgers’ lawyer, Randy Hood, alleged that Kevin Gregory did not support Mia and did not have a role in her life before the Gregorys wanted custody.

Gregory’s lawyer, Dan D’Agostino, filed documents saying Kevin Gregory did have a relationship with Mia, and that just because there was not a court-ordered child support obligation “does not mean that (Kevin Gregory) did not support his child.”

The probate case has deadlines of late April for both sides to make any additional claims, with a hearing to be held sometime before the end of June.

But that leaves the matter of Barbara Gregory, dead by the hand of her husband.

In the civil lawsuit, Kevin Gregory and his sister, Kristie Hawkins, allege their father was “grossly negligent” when he killed their mother. The children want both actual and punitive damages from their father and a death settlement from their father’s vast estate.

No trial date has been set in the civil lawsuit.

The worst crime

York County prosecutor Kevin Brackett and sheriff’s deputies who handled the investigation called the killings of a child and a disabled woman as bad as any crime they had ever seen or worked. When it was revealed in court that Ronald Fred Gregory had shot his granddaughter and let her die, let her bleed out for an hour, cops openly wept.

Gregory told sheriff’s detectives he was planning to kill his wife and granddaughter for several weeks. He said he was afraid Mia would get sick and become a “vegetable” from glue fumes from press-on nails that are sold in many stores.

Gregory also admitted he planned on killing himself for weeks. He claimed to be under pressure. He took out that pressure by killing his wife and granddaughter.

He also refused to spend his million dollars that now is in limbo in estates on lawyers, and represented himself in court.

Prosecutors had a clear guilty verdict – Gregory confessed, he was there at the crime scene, etc. – but would have had to get a jury to give the death penalty. Gregory’s mental state, his age and health, and the constant appeals of death penalty convictions, were factors in not seeking capital punishment. Even if prosecutors had received a death penalty sentence, which was unclear because of the mental issue, Gregory and lawyers could have appealed for years or decades.

The last person sentenced to death in York County – James Robertson, in 1999, for killing his parents – continues to appeal in three separate courts. Robertson has had more than a dozen taxpayer-funded lawyers trying to save his life.

Pending lawsuits

It will be up to a judge, or jury, in at least two or maybe three courts to decide if Ronald Fred Gregory, or anyone else, lied during the Family Court hearings or in legal documents to get custody of Mia.

The Rodgers family said their lawyers advised them not to comment. Citing ongoing lawsuits, the lawyer for the Gregorys declined comment.

The lawsuits may compel all sides to tell who knew what about Mia’s raising, and who was telling the truth about child support, money motives, and more. The lawsuits will also likely end, and it could take years, with financial gain by whomever wins.

A year later, the two, grandmother and granddaughter, killed together, are buried side by side at Rock Hill Memorial Gardens. Neither grave has a headstone.

Someone in the last few days left a dozen pale roses at Mia’s grave. Other flowers were left along with an ornamental bird nest and some wind chimes. A message on a small square says: “Love leaves a memory that no one can steal.”

There was a Hello Kitty doll.

Mia loved Hello Kitty. She died in her bed with Hello Kitty.

Mia Rodgers lay in that bed, dying, her dead grandmother in the next room, begging for help from her grandfather.

Mia died crying.

Mia died alone.

Andrew Dys •  803-329-4065 •  adys@heraldonline.com

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