PIKE COUNTY, Ohio -- A brother of a Rhoden family massacre victim was arrested Tuesday after authorities said he destroyed a GPS device that was part of the investigation into the murders of eight family members in Pike County last year.
James Manley, 40, of Pike County is charged with:
- one count of tampering with evidence, a third-degree felony;
- one count of vandalism, a fifth-degree felony.
A judge signed an arrest warrant for Manley on Tuesday, and he was booked into the Ross County Jail because Pike County doesn't have a jail.
The massacre captured national news attention in the weeks after it happened but has yielded few answers since then. No one has been charged or arrested for the deaths.
Authorities consider Manley a witness in the murders, and for some reason investigators wanted to keep track of him. So Maj. Alan L. Lewis of the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigations secretly put a GPS device on the frame of Manley's truck on April 22. It stopped operating April 28, according to a request for an arrest warrant signed by Lewis.
The charges Manley faces are not uncommon when a witness destroys such a device used in a government investigation, according to Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine's office.
— Hillary Lake, WCPO (@hillarylake) May 16, 2017
Manley's father and wife told BCI agents on Monday that Manley found the GPS and smashed it on the sidewalk. Lewis said he and two other agents went to Manley's home on Monday to "give notice of the court order concerning the GPS unit." That's when Manley's father, Leonard Manley, shouted at the agents from the driveway, he said.
He "yelled something to the effect of, 'You b-------, that thing's not on the truck,'" Lewis said.
According to Lewis, Manley's father continued to talk about his son's destroying the device.
The GPS was worth $315, the agent said.
Leonard Manley told WCPO he has no idea where the GPS device is, and he claimed his son did nothing wrong.
Martin Pinales, a WCPO legal expert, said the charges may depend on how badly Manley damaged the device, if at all.
"If I found a piece of equipment on my car that didn't belong, I would take it off as well," Pinales said. "You can't destroy it. You can't put it on the neighbor's car and have the police follow the wrong car around. But certainly, I don't think it is an obstruction."
According to Leonard Manley, investigators also told James Manley on Monday that he had failed a lie detector test he recently took.
Tuesday's arrest warrant came just days after investigators searched three properties for evidence. According to property owners, those searches were connected to Jake Wagner, Hanna Rhoden's ex-boyfriend.
A report Saturday that the Franklin County Sheriff’s SWAT team was searching for possible murder suspects was a false alarm: Sheriff’s spokesperson Marc Gofstein corrected himself to say the SWAT team was looking for evidence, not suspects. He didn’t confirm if any evidence was found.
Officials didn't explain why the SWAT team didn't join the search until the second day -- or why a SWAT team was needed for an evidence search, given that a SWAT team's role is to assist in personal high-risk situations.
A search for suspects would have been a significant development: Despite periodic reassurances of "significant progress" in the investigation, only a few pieces of information have surfaced in public view: Authorities believe the killer or killers must have been local, and the murders may have been connected to the Rhoden family's marijuana farms.
After Friday's search, Leonard Manley said he still wasn't optimistic about the chances of finding the person or persons who killed his daughter.
"Maybe not in my lifetime unless they find something awful good down there," he said.