Killer draws 15-year term Man who shot his best friend says he's sorry

December 18, 1992|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Staff Writer

Before he was sentenced to 15 years in state prison yesterday, Charles Albert Rhodes Jr. turned to his best friend's mother in Carroll Circuit Court yesterday and apologized for killing him.

"Loella, I'm sorry for what I have had to put you through," he said, his voice choked with sobs. "I love you all, but you know that. I'm so sorry."

Loella Rupp looked straight at Rhodes and began to cry as he spoke to her. Rhodes and her son, Steven, had grown up together.

But Steven Rupp is dead now. Rhodes, 44, shot him twice in the face after an argument April 6, 1991, that grew out of a love triangle involving the two men and Rhodes' wife, Dorothy Jean.

Rhodes' sentence yesterday was the result of a plea bargain made nearly two months ago. After Rhodes pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, prosecutors dropped first-degree murder and manslaughter charges, and agreed to a maximum sentence of 12 to 15 years.

More than a dozen witnesses testified on Rhodes' behalf during the sentencing hearing. Most of them characterized him as a good person who made a mistake when he shot his best friend.

"Charlie Rhodes is a decent, honest hard-working man," said Assistant Public Defender Brian Green. "This case proves that sometimes decent, honest men can be driven to do terrible things."

Testimony yesterday detailed how Mr. Rupp -- a divorced father of two -- came to live with Rhodes and his wife in their Hampstead home.

Rhodes, the father of two children, wanted to give Mr. Rupp a stable place to live where he could recover from the divorce and get control of his drinking, said Dr. Lawrence J. Raifman, a psychiatrist who testified for the defense.

When he moved into Rhodes' home, Dr. Raifman said, Mr. Rupp and Dorothy Jean Rhodes began to fall in love.

"She loved him, I loved her, I had to accept it," Dr. Raifman recalled Rhodes telling him.

"He did his best to stay out of the picture," the doctor said of Rhodes. "He had a live-and-let-live lifestyle."

The love triangle continued for five years at the Houcksville Road home, where the three adults and the Rhodeses' two children lived.

But, on the night of April 6, 1991, Mr. Rupp and Mrs. Rhodes, who shared a bedroom, were drinking beer and talking with Rhodes. An argument broke out between Mr. Rupp and Mrs. Rhodes. As it escalated, Mr. Rupp grabbed Mrs. Rhodes' hair and slammed her face into a kitchen table, Dr. Raifman said.

Rhodes and Mr. Rupp began to fight until Mr. Rupp left the kitchen and went into one of the bedrooms down the hall.

Rhodes went to his bedroom, loaded his 20-gauge shotgun and went back to wait for Mr. Rupp to leave his bedroom.

When Mr. Rupp appeared in the hall, Rhodes attempted to fire the shotgun but couldn't because the safety was on.

He removed the safety, then shot Mr. Rupp twice in the face. Rhodes then told his wife to call 911 and tell emergency dispatchers what happened. Mr. Rupp's body was found in the hallway by police and an ambulance crew. He was 40.

On the bench yesterday, Circuit Judge Luke K. Burns Jr. read from a letter written by Mary Jo Rupp, the victim's ex-wife. Mrs. Rupp told the judge she had to tell her two sons about their father's death the day after the shooting.

One of the boys was celebrating his 13th birthday that day.

"I had to tell him and his brother that their father had just been killed," the judge read. "The children miss their father terribly. They worshiped the ground he walked on."

Assistant State's Attorney Edward M. Ulsch, who prosecuted the case, called the plea bargain and sentence appropriate and acceptable.

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