COLUMBUS, Ohio – The Ohio Supreme Court said Wednesday it will hear an open records dispute involving autopsy reports in the unsolved slayings of eight family members.
At issue are lawsuits filed by Ohio newspapers seeking the full, unredacted copies of the reports on victims of the April 22 massacre in southern Ohio.
The court gave both sides three weeks to submit evidence, and set a deadline for submitting follow-up responses to that evidence. The Columbus Dispatch and the Cincinnati Enquirer have sued for the complete autopsy reports.
The case involves seven adults and a teenage boy from the Rhoden family found shot to death at four homes near Piketon on April 22.
Attorney General Mike DeWine, whose office is leading the investigation, is fighting the release of the full reports, saying it could compromise the investigation. DeWine's office provided heavily redacted versions last fall.
"The Ohio Attorney General's Office looks forward to making our arguments to the Court," DeWine spokesman Dan Tierney said Wednesday.
The redacted reports released last fall confirmed earlier accounts that all but one victim was shot multiple times in the head, but otherwise provided few new details in the investigation that is about to enter its 11th month.
As has previously been reported, one victim, 44-year-old Kenneth Rhoden, died of a single gunshot wound. Rhoden's body was the last found by investigators. The shootings happened at four locations in rural southern Ohio.
The other victims were shot multiple times in the head and, in the case of 40-year-old Christopher Rhoden Sr. — Kenneth Rhoden's brother — in his upper body and torso, as well.
The other victims were Christopher Rhoden Sr.'s 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.
In the redacted autopsy reports, toxicology results, which could include the use of drugs or alcohol, were blacked out for all the victims. Evidence of injuries beyond the mention of gunshot wounds was also blacked out for all the victims.
Authorities haven't announced a motive. DeWine's office has said Christopher Rhoden Sr. "was operating a large-scale marijuana growing operation on his property," leading some to speculate the killings were drug-related.
DeWine has said those responsible for the killings were familiar with the victims, their homes and the surrounding area. His office, which is investigating along with the Pike County sheriff's office, has also said authorities are operating under the theory there were multiple attackers.