COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The Ohio Supreme Court wants to see unredacted autopsy reports from eight slayings in one family as justices consider media lawsuits seeking access to those full reports from the year-old, unsolved case.
The court on Wednesday ordered the Pike County coroner to submit the reports within two weeks for justices to review outside of public view. The court said it would receive the autopsies under seal but won’t consider additional materials about why authorities want to continue withholding some of that information.
The decision came days before the one-year mark of when seven adults and a teenage boy from the Rhoden family were found shot to death at four homes near Piketon, in rural southern Ohio, on April 22.
The Columbus Dispatch and The Cincinnati Enquirer separately sued for access to the full final autopsies, but authorities want to shield the information, arguing that its release could compromise the investigation. Pike County Coroner David Kessler also has noted the victims’ relatives raised concerns about sharing details of their loved ones’ deaths.
“Everybody knows they’re murders by gunshot,” said Dan Tierney, a spokesman for Attorney General Mike DeWine. “At issue here is details about the murders which are only known by investigators and perhaps the killers, and whether that information should be released to the public.”
The newspapers’ attorneys said the private court review of the records in question is routine.
Attorney Jack Greiner, who represents the Enquirer, said the court “got it right” by not granting what he describes as an unusual request from authorities seeking to submit extra materials in a way that might not allow a proper rebuttal from the newspapers.
A state court already similarly reviewed unredacted versions of the preliminary autopsies in a separate, related case by the Enquirer and rejected the newspaper’s arguments. Greiner said that case is under appeal.
Heavily redacted versions of the autopsy reports showed all but one of the victims were shot multiple times in the head, but details about any other injuries and toxicology test results weren’t released.
Forty-year-old Christopher Rhoden Sr. was shot in the head, upper body and torso. Other victims included his ex-wife, 37-year-old Dana Rhoden; their three children, 20-year-old Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden, 16-year-old Christopher Rhoden Jr. and 19-year-old Hanna Rhoden; Frankie Rhoden’s fiancee, 20-year-old Hannah Gilley; and a cousin, 38-year-old Gary Rhoden.
The last victim to be discovered, 44-year-old Kenneth Rhoden, who was the brother of Christopher Rhoden Sr., died of a single gunshot.
Authorities suspect there were multiple attackers who were familiar with the victims’ homes and the surrounding area. The motive remains a mystery.
DeWine’s office has said Christopher Rhoden Sr. had “a large-scale marijuana growing operation,” leading some to speculate the killings were drug-related.