Thursday, October 23, 2014

Victim's mother: ‘Meth heads’ killed son over false rape accusation

By DOUG CARDER, Herald Senior Writer | 7/5/2014

Gregory Price assumed his preschool-aged daughter was asleep when he stepped quietly into her room late one night four years ago.

“She told me he came to see her while he thought she was sleeping and he told her he loved her and told her everything was going to be OK,” Elsie Kelly recalled her granddaughter telling her.

Gregory Price assumed his preschool-aged daughter was asleep when he stepped quietly into her room late one night four years ago.

“She told me he came to see her while he thought she was sleeping and he told her he loved her and told her everything was going to be OK,” Elsie Kelly recalled her granddaughter telling her.

It would prove to be one of the last times the young girl would hear her father’s voice.

Price, a 33-year-old former Ottawa resident, disappeared in mid-December 2010. In spring 2012, his body was found stuffed in a refrigerator along a tree line in a field near the intersection of 103rd Street and Kill Creek Road, near De Soto.

Details about Price’s death surfaced June 23 in U.S. District Court, Kansas City, Kansas, during the sentencing of Tracy Rockers, 24, Greeley, on drug trafficking charges. Rockers admitted she was present Dec. 17, 2010, at a Eudora residence when drug traffickers killed Price for failing to pay a drug debt of $400 and disposed of his body by hiding it in a refrigerator.

But a news release about the sentencing from U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom’s office didn’t tell the whole story, Kelly said of the court proceedings for more than a dozen people who were convicted of federal drug trafficking charges in the sale and distribution of methamphetamine.

“It was a two-year [investigation] of drugs,” Kelly said. “That’s what this was all about — that’s all [the prosecutors] cared about. It was not about Gregory’s death. It was all about them trying to bust all these meth heads.”

Kelly is upset no one was charged with her son’s death and the real reason he was killed by drug traffickers has gone untold, she said.

On Dec. 17, 2010, several drug traffickers confronted Price at a residence in Eudora about $400 they said he owed them, according to court documents. When Price refused to pay, the traffickers decided to take him to a rural farm where they intended to kill him, according to court testimony. They grabbed Price and attempted to pull him out the front door, but he resisted. Then they threw him into a door, causing him to collapse and begin “making gurgling noises,” according to court testimony.

Rockers watched Price while the traffickers installed a camper shell on the back of a pickup they would use to transport his body, the federal prosecutor said in a news release. At some point, while lying on the floor, Price died, and traffickers put Price’s body inside a refrigerator and took it to the rural location near De Soto, the release said.

Johnson County Sheriff’s Office deputies, responding to a tip, discovered Price’s body April 19, 2012, along a tree line near 103rd Street and Kill Creek Road. A fingerprint match helped to identify the remains, which were badly deteriorated, according to media reports.

Kelly, who sat through several of the court proceedings including Rockers’ sentencing hearing June 23, questioned Monday why prosecutors didn’t tell media about the real reason drug traffickers took her son from his motel room in Independence, Missouri, in the dead of winter without even allowing him to put on his shoes and killed him at the house in Eudora.

THE REAL REASON

Several witnesses testified about a phone call to one of the drug traffickers saying Price had raped a girl in a motel room, Kelly said, which is what truly had angered the drug traffickers who killed her son.

The supposed rape victim was a friend of some of the traffickers, she said.

“So one of the guys went to the motel where he was staying and took him to a house in Eudora,” Kelly said. “The testimony said Gregory didn’t want to get out of this guy’s truck, so the guy convinced [Rockers] to go out and talk him into coming inside the house. Inside, [several drug traffickers] had guns and Tasers and stuff and they kept on asking him why he had done this to the girl. And Gregory kept saying, ‘I didn’t do it. I didn’t do anything wrong.’”

Kelly freely admitted that her son was involved in the drug trafficking ring — “They wanted him to sell their drugs” — and that he owed them $400.

“[Witnesses] testified that, yes, the [drug traffickers] were mad about the fact he had ripped them off for $400 worth of drugs, but that wasn’t the main issue,” Kelly said. “The main issue was the fact that he was supposed to have done this to this girl and that’s what they were so mad about it. That’s what Tracy Rockers testified. They had called Steven Hohn [a Gardner man and the reported leader of the drug ring who received a 30-year sentence in federal prison]. He came there and they started putting a camper shell on a truck. They were going to take him out and kill him that night.”

But the plan went awry, witnesses testified.

“When they went over to the couch and grabbed a hold of Gregory on both sides to drag him out of the house, they knocked his head into the door and he fell to the floor,” Kelly said. “He was gurgling and [Rockers, a nurse] said he was in trouble. She went over and took his vital signs and said something was wrong. But none of them did anything to help him. They just let him die there on the floor.

“I’ve been a registered nurse for 17 years,” Kelly, formerly of Ottawa, said. “I couldn’t sit there and watch somebody die, even if they owed me money.”

Kelly, wiping away tears, said it was painful to listen to the rest of the testimony.

“They took a refrigerator and set it down [horizontally] on the floor and hollowed it out and put his body in the refrigerator,” Kelly said. “Gregory had long legs, and they said his legs wouldn’t fit in the freezer [portion of the refrigerator] so they made them fit. That was the part that really got to me.”

Five of the convicted traffickers were at the home when her son died, Kelly said. After stuffing Price’s body in the refrigerator, they closed the door and sat on it to pose for a photograph. The photograph was displayed in the courtroom during the trial proceedings.

“The picture taken inside the house in Eudora showed all of them sitting on [the refrigerator] with guns in their hands and smirks on their faces,” Kelly said. “The picture of them sitting there told the whole story for me. They didn’t have any regard for life whatsoever. They knew Gregory had [three] kids, but that didn’t matter to them.”

NO HOMICIDE CHARGES

Kelly is angry that the federal prosecutors didn’t charge any of the traffickers present that day with her son’s killing.

An email response from the U.S. Attorney’s office said that wasn’t accurate.

“The homicide was one of the factors the federal judge took into account at sentencing,” the email said.

No other charges would be filed in the case, the email said.

But that answer didn’t satisfy Kelly, who said she had lost all faith in the judicial system. Kelly believes the traffickers present at the time of her son’s death should have been brought up on homicide charges in addition to the drug charges — rather than prosecutors seeking additional prison time tacked onto the drug charges for her son’s death, she said.

A request for the U.S. Attorney’s office to identify which drug traffickers were in line for the sentence enhancement went unanswered. The three convicted drug traffickers receiving the longest federal prison sentences were: Hohn, 34, Gardner, 30 years; Michael C. Redifer, 37, no address, 30 years, and Michael C. Quick, 33, Eudora, 20 years. Rockers received a sentence of 162 months (13.5 years) for her involvement in the drug ring.

“I thought some of the charges were going to be for him, but I feel like none of them were,” Kelly said. “They said if we got 12 jurors in there and heard about all of his involvement with the drugs, that none of them would have convicted [the drug traffickers] of his murder. Well, I’m never going to have that chance. I understand charges can’t be filed again since all of this has been done. So basically Gregory died for nothing.”

Kelly also is disillusioned by the investigation, though she said she is grateful to the detectives who found her son’s body. Kelly received a phone call 18 months before her son’s body was found from one of the meth users who told her about her son’s death, she said. But when Kelly took that information to investigators, they seemed to brush her off, she said.

“She knew way too many details,” Kelly said of the caller. “It turns out she did know something.”

Kelly last saw her son Dec. 15, 2010, two days before he was killed, at the motel in Independence. She said her son moved away because of threats the drug traffickers had made against him and his family when he told them he wanted out.

“Gregory told my husband that when he went to [one of the drug traffickers] and said he wanted out, the [drug trafficker] told him he would kill him and put him in a refrigerator and no one would ever find his body,” Kelly said. “Gregory left [in early December 2010] because he was trying to keep us safe. His daughter [who still lived in the area at the time] was his life.”

Kelly also moved away from the Ottawa area to an undisclosed location. “I didn’t want those thugs hanging around.”

LAST ENCOUNTER

Price called his mother two days before he was killed, she said.

“I went on the 15th of December because he called and told me he hadn’t ate for three days,” Kelly said. “I took him down to McDonald’s and got him some food and took him back to the motel. He gave me a hug and told me he loved me and that everything was going to be OK. That was the last time I saw him. I wish I would have talked him in to coming back home with me. That thought crosses my mind every day.”

Sgt. Steve Lemons, with the Ottawa Police Department, put Kelly in connection with a detective in Independence, Missouri, Kelly said when she reported her son was missing.

“Officer Lemons was the only one that helped me — I’m grateful to him,” Kelly said. “The [Independence] detective said he would help me but his words [about my son] were, ‘He’s a drug addict. They take off for months at a time to keep out of trouble.’ And that was the end of that.”

But Kelly knew better, she said.

“When he didn’t call me or his little girl’s momma for a week and he didn’t come back for Christmas, I knew [he was dead],” Kelly said. “I think he was using the $400 [he owed the traffickers] to buy his little girl Christmas presents.”

Kelly wanted to bury her son and purchase a tombstone so his daughter would have a place to visit him in the future, but her $3,600 request to the victim’s advocate office in Topeka was turned down.

“They denied me because he was involved in a drug conspiracy,” Kelly said.

During the trial, testimony revealed that the woman who supposedly had been raped by Price said the incident never happened. Kelly said in her heart she knew the allegation was not true. And she didn’t want people to think her son was killed over drug money.

“Yeah he made mistakes, everybody does,” Kelly said. “He may have did some things that weren’t right, but he didn’t deserve to die. Not for $400 and for something he didn’t do. He was a good man, he was a good son and a good father — he just didn’t make good choices.”

Last Christmas, Price’s young daughter came to visit Kelly and saw the urn with her dad’s ashes next to his photograph.

“She said, ‘Grandma, how is Daddy in that box? He’s got long legs,’” Kelly said. “Then she sat down over there on the couch and was real quiet. And then she said, ‘Grandma, I miss my Daddy, and that’s why I’m just looking at him right now.’”

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