CELINA — More than three hours into a hearing in which he was scheduled to plead guilty to killing a rural Fort Recovery man and his caregiver daughter in 2011, a man backed out of his chance to avoid the death penalty.
Bryant Rhoades was on the verge of pleading guilty to the crimes but stopped after he didn’t agree with Mercer County Prosecutor Matt Fox’s statement of facts that not only put him at the scene of the murders but had him executing 70-year-old Robert Grube as he was bound with duct tape in his wheel chair.
Grube and his caregiver daughter, Colleen Grube, 47, were killed Nov. 29 or 30, 2011, as part of a robbery. The slayings happened in a rural location outside Fort Recovery. It took authorities more than a year and a half to make arrests.
Rhoades was in the process of entering an Alford plea, which allows a court to find him guilty but allows a defendant in a criminal case to not admit to the criminal acts. Rhoades was going to enter the plea to two counts of aggravated murder with gun specifications and two counts each of aggravated robbery and aggravated burglary.
The first glimpse that Rhoades was hedging came when Judge Jeffrey Ingraham asked him to explain his understand of life in prison, which Rhoades said meant he would spend the rest of his life in prison unless evidence came up to prove his innocence.
“Or if the people who really did it come forward,” he said.
Relatives of the Grubes filled half the courtroom. Some cried after the hearing ended abruptly. One member of the family, a younger man, vocally blasted Rhoades.
“Bob and Colleen couldn’t walk away, you coward,” the young man said.
The 23-year-old Rhoades was expected to receive a life sentence without the chance for parole in exchange for his plea. Instead, the case will be placed back on the active docket and proceed toward a death penalty trial.
Rhoades’ co-defendant, Trevin Sanders, who was 17 at the time of the crimes, was scheduled to be sentenced Thursday. He had pleaded guilty to charges but could be used as a witness against Rhoades so his sentencing was expected to be postponed.
The hearing dragged on for more than three hours as Ingraham, along with visiting judges Randall Basinger of Putnam County and Jeffrey Reed of Allen County, presided over the hearing. A three-judge panel is required when a potential sentence includes the death penalty if a defendant waives a jury, which Rhoades did at the beginning of the hearing.
It is not uncommon for hearings to last hours. Judges carefully go over every element of a plea and make sure a defendant understands everything including the rights he is waiving. Being careless could bring a case back on appeal.
While Fox was reading over the statement of facts, he said Rhoades, Sanders and others planned to rob the Grubes. They smoked methamphetamine that day on the way over. They used a ruse that their car broke down while knocking on the door and forced their way in once there. Rhoades told investigators specific details about the inside of the Grube house and the way the two were murdered that only the killers would know, Fox said.
Just before the hearing, Rhoades pleaded guilty and was sentenced to three years in prison on the charge of obstructing official business, a third-degree felony. The charge was for leading investigators on a wild goose chase and later admitted to lying to them during the investigation.