Thursday, May 29th, 2014
Judge holds off on venue decision in Rhoades trial
By Margie Wuebker
CELINA - A decision whether to move the location of the trial of Bryant L. Rhoades - charged in the November 2011 murders of Robert and Colleen Grube - will occur during jury selection, a judge has ruled.
The ruling was one of several defense motions Mercer County Common Pleas Court Judge Jeffrey Ingraham responded to in writing this week in the case of the 23-year-old Union City man who faces a 27-count indictment, including aggravated murder with death penalty specifications.
Rhoades' attorneys William Kluge and Bob Grzybowski had sought a change of venue due to extensive media publicity they claim could make seating a fair and impartial jury difficult.
Mercer County Prosecutor Matt Fox in reply urged the court to deny the motion now but reconsider it after both sides have an opportunity to question prospective jurors prior to the start of the trial, which hasn't been scheduled.
Ingraham agreed with Fox, stating "that unless and until such time as the court conducts an appropriate examination of prospective jurors, the court cannot properly consider the motion."
The state and the defense attorneys will be given six peremptory challenges - a right to reject potential jurors without stating a reason - during the jury selection process, the judge ruled. Rhoades had sought 12 due to the seriousness of a death penalty case.
Ingraham also granted defense counsel and jurors an opportunity to view the murder scene - the Burrville Road home in rural Fort Recovery where the Grubes resided. Instructions for the viewings are to be submitted to court bailiff Mike Huber by July 1.
Ingraham denied a motion seeking to have law enforcement officers wear plain clothes instead of uniforms in court. Rhoades claimed the presence of uniforms could result in a high probability of bias and prejudice against him.
"The state has stated it does not intend to flood the courtroom with guards beyond what the Mercer County sheriff believes is necessary to protect the court as well as the parties, the witnesses, the public and the defendant," Ingraham wrote. "That purpose is served by having law enforcement officers in uniform in and around the courtroom."
Rhoades will be permitted to appear before a jury or prospective jury in street clothes instead of jail attire and without shackles or other restraints, the judge ruled. The defendant claimed jail garb and restraints would replace the presumption of innocence with a presumption of guilt.
The judge also denied a motion regarding the disclosure of juvenile court records for potential witnesses the state could call at trial.
Ingraham added the defendant had failed to establish a proper purpose for the juvenile records. He earlier denied a defense motion to suppress statements Rhoades previously made to investigators.
Rhoades' next court proceeding is a pretrial hearing at 3 p.m. Monday.
Rhoades, who has been incarcerated locally nearly a year, also faces charges of murder, involuntary manslaughter, kidnapping, aggravated robbery, aggravated burglary, burglary and theft.
All the charges contain specifications involving the use of a firearm.
Co-defendant Trevin Sanders-Roark, 20, also of Union City, pleaded guilty Feb. 27 to two counts of aggravated murder with gun specifications and two counts of aggravated robbery and aggravated burglary in connection with the same double homicide. Other charges were dismissed as part of a negotiated plea arrangement.
A sentencing date has not been set. It was slated for April 15 but was vacated after both sides requested additional time to prepare. An attorney conference is slated at 4:30 p.m. Monday.
Sanders-Roark is not eligible for the death penalty because he was a juvenile at the time of the murders.
Both men remain remain incarcerated on $5 million bonds.
Investigators believe the pair and several other people went to the Grube home Nov. 29 and 30, 2011, to burglarize the residence. The other suspects - believed to be a man and a woman - have not been identified or apprehended by authorities.
After reportedly smoking methamphetamine en route to the home, the assailants forcibly entered the home and duct taped the father and daughter before shooting them to death, according to a statement of facts read at Sanders-Roark's change of plea hearing earlier this year.