Saturday, May 17, 2003

Ricketts' daughter doubts beating


Teen: Father not abusive

By Sheila McLaughlin
The Cincinnati Enquirer

LEBANON - Rhonda Ricketts told police that she fatally shot her ex-husband, Steve, in self-defense.

But the couple's 18-year-old daughter said Friday that her father was not a wife-beater, despite the portrait Rhonda Ricketts' call to police paints of him.

Stephanie Ricketts said she thinks her mother concocted the story and staged the 911 call and bruises as her alibi.

"He was nothing like that," the Lebanon High School senior told the Enquirer in a phone call from Huntsville, Ala.

The teen and her 16-year-old brother, Jeremy, are staying there with relatives and awaiting the weekend funeral services for their father, who served his Middletown church as a board member and head usher.

Rhonda Ricketts claims that she was a battered wife who killed her ex-husband in self-defense. She had a black eye and bruises when arrested. Charged with murder, she remained in jail Friday in lieu of $500,000 bail.

"I don't believe her story. That is crazy," the daughter said. "He never treated mom bad, never raised a hand to her, none of us at all."

Stephanie said her parents were arguing Tuesday when her mother handed her $50 and sent her on an errand to buy two flats of flowers and lunch about 11:15 a.m. She said her mother encouraged her to drive all the way to Middletown with a friend to find flowers.

"My mom never planted flowers since I was 12 years old. But, she was talking about it for three weeks," Stephanie said.

She said her father was in bed after working at the coke plant at AK Steel, and her parents were arguing before she left the house.

"Dad had just served eviction papers on her to leave the house, and the 72 hours were up," the daughter said. "He said, 'You need to find a place to go.' She was saying, 'You promised you'd marry me again.' He said, 'No.' "

When Stephanie returned to the house about 12:45 p.m. Tuesday, police were swarming the property. She learned her father had been dead for nearly an hour and that her mother had admitted killing him.

Daniel Hidlebaugh, Steve Ricketts' pastor at Truth Tabernacle Apostolic Church, said he also is suspicious.

Hidlebaugh called Rhonda Ricketts a manipulative woman who was so unpredictable that Steve Ricketts removed shotguns and rifles that once belonged to his late father from the Lebanon house.

He said Steve Ricketts came to him concerned three weeks ago, saying his ex-wife had threatened to lie to police that he had beaten her if he kicked her out of his house.

A funeral service for Steve Ricketts is 3 p.m. today at Valhalla Chapel, 698 Winchester Rd., Huntsville, with burial in the adjoining cemetery.

E-mail smclaughlin@enquirer.com




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