RUSH GOES ON TRIAL FOR DOUBLE MURDER - Minney Asks Jurors To "Follow The Money"

By Bob Weaver

The double murder case against 18-year-old Ronnie Rush got underway yesterday in Grantsville, following his attorney's absence, which caused a one-day delay.

Shannon Baldwin's car rolled-over on icy US 33 Tuesday, but she appeared to be in good shape as the trial began with a list of about 25 witnesses to be called to the stand.

Twelve jurors along with alternates were seated Monday from a 75-person pool, following a day-long process.

During the opening statement, prosecutor Matt Minney told the jury about the events of May 15, 2002.

"Two elderly Calhoun residents put on their night clothes, turned out the lights and went to sleep, never to awaken again," referring to the victims, Ward Groves and his ex-wife Mary Hicks.

Judge Thomas Evans III sequestered the witnesses, which prevents them from hearing the case or other witnesses.

Plans were made for a jury view of the murder site on Little Bear Fork, which is adjacent US 33-119 east of Sand Ridge.

Minney told the jury "The State does not say Rush worked alone," but for now the focus is on Rush.

Minney said the State's case is based on three key points, varying statements and accounts given by Rush to investigators, physical evidence related to the commission of the crime and money.

Minney asked the jury to "Follow the money."

Rush gave an account that he was used by Bobby Shamblin for a gun rest while Shamblin shot the couple. He also said he witnessed unknown intruders escape the house following the gunshots, with a vehicle driving west toward Spencer.

Minney focused on what happened to a large sum of cash Groves had inherited from his brother, saying there was about $1000 found in a truck driven by Rush from the murder scene to his parents home.

Other pockets of cash were found.

Later, $2,700 was found under a trash can liner in a trailer belonging to Rush's father and step-mother.

Minney said Rush had opportunity. He was in an upstairs bedroom.

E-911 dispatcher Walter Wilson validated two 911 calls Rush made following the shootings, the first to report the incident and the second to advise he had taken Ward Grove's truck, driving it from the murder scene to his family residence, a short distance.

Cpl. Doug Starcher, who was on the witness stand much of the day, said he could not understand why Rush did not use working telephones in the Grove's house to call for help.

Starcher testified he saw a red mark on Rush's shoulder the morning of the crime, congruent with a recoil. Starcher also said there were "red dots" or a "round disc" on the defendant's face.

Starcher gave a detailed description of the crime scene, saying Groves and Hicks had both been shot at close range. Photos of the victims were shown to the jury and those seated in the courtroom.

The State Police Crime Lab was called to the scene.

Groves died from a shotgun blast to the head. The entry wound was behind his ear with shot-grains and body matter exiting and striking a bed post and the bedroom wall, said Starcher.

Hicks died from a blast under her arm, with a teddy bear nearby.

Other photos of the crime scene included a broken ceramic bird found on the floor and a single 20-gauge shotgun shell on the corner of an old electric stove.

Cpl. Starcher testified that Groves' pants beside his bed had the pockets turned outside with coins scattered on the floor.

Starcher said there was no forced entry to the house, and two of three doors were locked.

Rush, who was 16 at the time, was returned to the crime scene by Sheriff Allen Parsons and Chief Deputy Carl Ballengee, where Cpl. Starcher interviewed him after reading his Miranda Rights.

Starcher said the officers brought with them a "wad of money" discovered in the truck driven by Rush.

Deputy Ballengee performed a gunshot residue test on Rush.

The interview was played for the jurors, with Starcher asking Rush to tell him "exactly the truth." Starcher says Rush began to make conflicting statements and statements that he could not validate.

"I knew he was lying. I didn't know why," said Starcher.

Defense attorney Baldwin spent considerable time at the conclusion of the day asking clarifying questions.

Trial watchers said the case will likely go into next week, as Judge Thomas Evans III said court would not be in session over the weekend.

Teresa Monk with the Public Defender's Office is assisting Baldwin and Frank Giggenbach, Jr. from the Prosecuting Attorney's Office is assisting prosecutor Minney.