Rodvold trial: Planned murder or self defense?

The six shots that killed Keith Rodvold were planned, Huron County prosecutor Russ Leffler argued Thursday. But Steven Rodvold and his attorney maintain he acted in self defense while his father reached for a gun, threatening to kill him.
Melissa Topey
May 14, 2010

 

The six shots that killed Keith Rodvold were planned, Huron County prosecutor Russ Leffler argued Thursday.

But Steven Rodvold and his attorney maintain he acted in self defense while his father reached for a gun, threatening to kill him.

Steven Rodvold faces charges of aggravated murder and murder in the death of his 51-year-old father after he admitted to killing him Sept. 17, 2009, with a .357-caliber gun.

Two bullets tore through Keith Rodvold's hands, Leffler said Thursday as Steven Rodvold's trial began. A third slammed into his right bicep. A possible fatal shot pierced his right lung, and then two other possibly fatal shots struck his head. His red coffee mug lay beside him, splattered with blood.

Steven Rodvold was "loaded for bear" when he killed his father, Leffler said, adding that his ammunition included special bullets called speed loaders.

The two had a contentious relationship. They argued over expenses, such as food, because Steven was unemployed. Keith worked in construction, but the work was sporadic and he taught at Sandusky High School for extra money. Leffler said Steven had stopped eating and withdrew from family, including his grandparents. But Steven told officials his father was "trying to starve him."

Keith had asked his son to move out by the end of the month. Steven described his father to investigators as a domineering man who threatened to kill him.

On the day of his father's death, Rodvold received a letter that denied him unemployment benefits after he quit a job he'd had for 13 days at a local fish hatchery. Steven spent more than seven years in the military, serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. When he returned to a sluggish economy, his difficulty finding a job became a source of constant conflict between him and his father.

He was angry and threatening when he called the state's unemployment benefits office that day, Leffler said. He scared the agent in Columbus when he said he had a boatload of ammunition and added, "there's gonna be dead bodies." The agent contacted law enforcement and asked the local sheriff's office to check on Steven.

But before they had a chance to check, deputies responded to a call about a possible burglary.

Investigators with the Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation concluded by studying the scene and clothing that Steven moved toward his father as he fired. Steven told deputies he pulled the gun from his hip and fired at his father, adding the last shot might have been a "confirmation shot."

The investigators reported the shot to the arm was fired from 2-4 feet away, while the shot to the chest was from 2-3 feet away. The shots to the temple and to the top of the head were fired from less than 2 inches away.

After shooting his father, Steven reloaded his gun and went inside the house, possibly to make sure Keith's friend wasn't inside.

Leffler contends Steven then staged the scene to make the murder appear to be an act of self defense. He argued the Kimber gun found at the scene -- a weapon his father owned and meticulously cared for -- was loaded in an unusual fashion and wasn't secured the way Keith normally kept it.

"I theorize it shows he was in a rush trying to set the scene," Leffler said.

But Steven's attorney, William Mooney, portrayed his client as a man from a dysfunctional family who shot his father to avoid being killed himself.

That afternoon, Mooney said Steven went behind the house to blow off some steam after learning his unemployment benefits had been denied.

The Rodvolds were avid gun enthusiasts, and Keith belonged to the Erie County Conservation League, Mooney said.

After shooting in the yard, Steven sat outside, writing a letter to the state to appeal the decision.

When his father came out, the two started to argue.

Steven told officials he tried to leave but his father told him he wasn't going anywhere, Mooney said in his opening arguments. His father, moving toward a gun, threatened to kill him if he didn't listen, he told officials. Mooney said Steven acted in self defense when he pulled the handgun from his waist and fired six times.

He argued there was no way for Steven to get away if his father had made it to the gun found inches away from where investigators discovered his body. There were 20 long-barrel guns and a total of six pistols in the home.

"Even if he had tried to (retreat), it would have been useless," Mooney said. "For that reason, he had a right to defend himself with deadly force."

The trial continues today in Huron County Common Pleas Court.