Man sentenced to life for killing 9-year-old granddaughter, wife

by: Greg Suskin Updated:

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ROCK HILL, S.C. - Even the prosecutor had to stop and collect his emotions while explaining the details of a pair of murders he called “ghastly.”
 
Ronald Gregory, 68, didn't apologize, show emotion, or say much at all Monday while entering a plea to killing his wife and granddaughter.
 
Gregory refused a lawyer and defended himself, pleading guilty but mentally ill to the March 21 murders at his home in Rock Hill.
 
He admitted putting a gun to the chest of his wife, Barbara, and shooting her in the heart while she slept.  
 
Then he walked into his granddaughter Mia's room, and did the same.
 
However, Mia Rodgers didn't die immediately. It took an hour. The prosecutor said Gregory sat with her, and she asked him, “When will I  stop hurting?"
 
He never made any attempt to get her medical care.
 
"Anyone who has a heart would find it hard to get through this," said Solicitor Kevin Brackett.  "You’re talking about a little girl here, killed by her grandfather.  The last thing she sees."
 
Her maternal grandfather, Paul Rodgers, had no words for what happened in that house.
 
"I don't know what to say to that. That's just inhumane," he said.
 
The following day, Gregory lay down next to his dead granddaughter, and shot himself in the chest. 
 
When he realized he was still breathing, he pulled the trigger again. He recovered, and was released from the hospital five days later.
 
In statements to sheriff's detectives the day after the killings, Gregory said he had thought about hurting himself for weeks.  He came to the conclusion that if he was going to kill himself, he would also kill Mia and Barbara, because he didn't want to leave them alone with no one to look after them.
 
He had withdrawn $25,000 from the bank the day before the murders, and $14,000 the day after, saying it was for his daughter to be able to pay the bills.
 
Mia was in the center of an ongoing custody battle following her mother's death from illness last fall.   The battle was difficult on both families, but in comments to detectives, Gregory said he was confident he would win custody of the little girl.
 
"I wasn't worried at all about it,” Brackett said he told deputies, reading from his statement.
 
Gregory also made the bizarre statement to police that he was worried about Mia's health after taking her to go get some fake press-on fingernails.   He worried she had inhaled the fumes from the glue, and thought it might damage her. He took her to a doctor, who said there had been no ill effects from the glue-on nails.
 
A doctor who evaluated Gregory found that he understood right and wrong, and had a full knowledge of what he did, but not at the time of the killings.
 
Judge John C. Hayes accepted his plea of guilty, but mentally ill on the basis of the doctor's evaluation.
 
Gregory's daughter, Kristie Hawkins, told the judge the devastation in her family was beyond explanation.   
 
"I didn't just lose Mia that day.  I lost a father that day too," she said.
 
Gregory will now live out his days in prison.  Brackett said the difference between guilty, and guilty but mentally ill isn't much in the eyes of the law. 
 
"The difference is,  maybe once a day somebody shows up with some pills," he said.  "He'll get medicine."
 
Brackett said he did not seek the death penalty against Gregory for several reasons.
 
Due to his age he'd likely die in prison before the death sentence could be carried out.  Seeking death would also delay the case going to court for years, and the family was not in favor of capital punishment for Gregory.
 
The Rodgers family said outside the courtroom they will now move forward with a wrongful-death lawsuit.

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