Courts news

Matthew Rhinehart, the former bank underwriter accused of murdering his father last year, was found guilty in Gordon County Superior Court on Thursday of all the charges brought against him in the case.

The jury found him guilty of malice murder, felony murder, aggravated stalking, theft by taking and possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime stemming from the February, 20, 2012 slaying of 62-year-old Steve Rhinehart.

Matthew Rhinehart had initially asserted that he killed his father in an act of self-defense. But after an odd, and sometimes rambling, bit of testimony on Wednesday, Matthew Rhinehart admitted that he lied about the whole thing.

He told jurors that he became obsessed with finding a gun and killing his father, with whom he had a rocky relationship.

Dressed in a blue button-up shirt and khaki pants on Wednesday, Matthew Rhinehart occasionally ran his hands through his hair and calmly recalled the circumstances that led to the murder.

He explained that around 2009 he began suffering from anxiety and depression and had delusions that people were out to get him. He was having difficulties at his job in Atlanta, had been abusing prescription drugs and a relationship with a girlfriend had turned sour, so he moved back in with his parents.

As time went on, his parents insisted that he move out since he repeatedly left mental health facilities and refused to get a job. Prosecutors had asserted that Matthew Rhinehart wanted his parents to divorce because he felt his mother would take care of him, while his father insisted that he take responsibility for himself. When the divorce did not happen, Matthew Rhinehart determined that he would just kill his father.

After he failed a background check at a pawnshop in Calhoun and was denied a gun days before the shooting, Matthew Rhinehart said he drove to Dalton and then to Atlanta in hopes of purchasing one but was unsuccessful.

So, he returned to the pawnshop in Calhoun, distracted the attendant and stole a .357 revolver. He explained that he did research on the Internet to determine the best way to shoot and kill someone.

Matthew Rhinehart then told the jury that he bought ammunition legally in Calhoun on the day he killed his father and then drove to his parents’ house looking for Steve Rhinehart.

Initially, he said, he didn’t think his father was home so he came back a few minutes later. Matthew Rhinehart said he saw his father’s truck near a workshop behind the house so he drove up there, got out of his car and calmly walked up to Steve Rhinehart and shot him five times: once in the head and four times in the chest.

“I just pulled the gun out, continued to walk up the hill and around the corner and met him and just shot him, right in the chest,” Matthew Rhinehart said.

The testimony was perhaps unexpected since Matthew Rhinehart told investigators in his initial interview that the gun had belonged to his father and that he never intended to kill him.

In an audio recording presented as evidence, Mathew Rhinehart told detectives that he simply came to the house to retrieve his belongings when his father ran towards him in a fit of rage and he shot him. Matthew Rhinehart said he changed his story and admitted everything in hopes that he could find some forgiveness.

Defense attorney George Govignon took the position throughout the trial that Matthew Rhinehart did indeed kill Steve Rhinehart, but only because of years of mental illness and poor treatment by his father. District Attorney Rosemary Greene countered by insinuating that Matthew Rhinehart was a spoiled kid who wanted his father out of his way.

Greene, in her impassioned closing arguments Wednesday, gritted her teeth and fought off emotion as she discussed how it must have felt for Sue Rhinehart — Matthew’s mother — to see her son walking away from the workshop with a gun in his hands after he killed her husband.

“It was a difficult case for everyone,” Greene said after the trial ended Thursday. “I had a chance to speak with some of the jurors and it really weighed on them. I appreciate all their service in considering all the evidence to reach a conclusion.”

Sheriff Mitch Ralston, whose department led the investigation into the shooting, weighed in on the verdict Thursday.

“This case was a tragedy, but was brought to a just resolution by a true team effort of several components of our local legal system,” he said. “It has been presented to a jury composed of our own citizens who’ve heard the case and returned what I believe to be a proper verdict. I commend all of those who were involved in the investigation and prosecution. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family affected by this event.”

Matthew Rhinehart will be sentenced on November 21 at 9 a.m. in the Annex Courtroom. Rhinehart could spend the rest of his life in prison on the murder counts.