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Convicted murderer claims attorney failed him

Annie Zelm • May 6, 2011 at 5:00 AM

A Huron County man convicted of killing his father claims a string of people failed him over the years, starting with his own parents and most recently, his attorney.

The appeals court has appointed Steven Rodvold a new attorney as he fights his conviction from prison.

A Huron County judge sentenced Rodvold, 27, to a mandatory sentence of 15 years to life last May after a jury found him guilty of murder. He was found not guilty of aggravated murder, a charge indicating prior calculation.

His attorney, Timothy Dempsey of Sandusky, asked to be withdrawn from the case after Rodvold filed a complaint against him in Erie County Common Pleas Court. Rodvold alleges Dempsey ineffectively represented him and then failed to keep him informed about his case so he could meet deadlines for an appeal.

It appears his appeal will move forward, however.

The Ohio Sixth District Court of Appeals granted Dempsey's request last month and appointed Rodvold a new attorney, Terice Warncke of Delta, Ohio.

Warncke said she has not yet met with Rodvold and would not comment on the appeal at this time. She's required to file documents outlining the case for his appeal by June 3, although she said she'll likely file for an extension.

In an eight-page complaint against his former attorney, Rodvold contends Dempsey failed him in several ways, including:

• Failing to provide the testimony of a firearms expert, which Rodvold said was necessary to show he shot his father in self-defense.

• Failing to seek a forensic pathologist to provide a defense against the findings of the state's coroner.

• Excluding several witnesses who could have testified about Rodvold's history of physical and mental abuse at the hands of both his parents and step-parents and failing to provide documentation that substantiated it.

Rodvold claims he suffered "battered child syndrome" from abuse that started at age 6, when his parents locked him in a dark closet for three days without food or water.

According to the complaint, Dempsey made no attempt to locate records from a children services investigation into the abuse in Palestine, Texas, where school employees first reported the problems.

Rodvold names nearly a dozen people who he says had knowledge of his father's "pattern of abuse" — including neighbors, friends and step-siblings — and points out they were never called as witnesses.

* Failing to show the jury that Rodvold's father frequently threatened him by sneaking up behind him with a rifle or firing shots near him, claiming to be shooting at raccoons in their barn.

* Failing to object to factors he claims violated his right to a fair trial, including "confusing jury instruction" and allowing gruesome photos of his slain father in court.

Dempsey did not return a call seeking comment this week, but filed a response to the complaint, arguing that he did fulfill his duties as Rodvold's attorney. He stated Rodvold's complaints are baseless because he does not back them up with any expert opinion to support them. Finally, he states Rodvold is not entitled to collect damages from him because he is "barred due to the doctrine of unclean hands," a rule that says someone bringing forth a claim must be innocent of wrongdoing related to that claim.

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