Man gets 25 years to life for murder

Published 10:10 am Thursday, March 13, 2014

An Ironton man convicted of murdering his brother-in-law maintained his innocence, saying he loved the man like a father.

Rodney “Rocky” Delawder, 34, was found guilty by a jury Friday and was sentenced Wednesday in Lawrence County Common Pleas Court.a

Before Judge Charles Cooper imposed the sentence, Delawder turned to face his family and the family of John A. McKnight.

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“John Arthur was like a dad to me,” Delawder said through his tears. “And there ain’t nobody in here that can say he wasn’t. Him and my mom were together for 14 years. And he would do anything for me. And I wouldn’t do nothing to hurt John.”

McKnight died Jan. 29, 2013, from gunshot wounds. A jury found there was enough evidence to prove Delawder pulled the trigger, as well as severely beat his other brother-in-law, Larry McKnight.

Evidence presented during the trial by Prosecuting Attorney Brigham Anderson showed that after beating Larry McKnight, Delawder retrieved and loaded a shotgun, after which time, John McKnight and Delawder fought over the gun.

After the struggle, John retreated into his mother’s, Carolyn McKnight, house and Delawder fired into the window of the back door, killing him.

Mike Davenport, defense attorney, argued during the trial Delawder had confronted the brothers about sexually assaulting his wife years earlier, at which time Larry became irate and attacked Delawder. Davenport also argued that Larry loaded the gun that killed John.

“It wasn’t me that went crazy,” Delawder said Wednesday. “It was Larry McKnight that went crazy. I wouldn’t do nothing to hurt John. … Everything that happened was an accident and it was all because of what Larry done. Larry is the one who pulled the gun on me. It wasn’t me and John Arthur fighting over the gun. It was me and Larry.”

James Guy, a representative of the McKnight family, also spoke to the court, saying Delawder’s story was false. Guy is Carolyn McKnight’s brother-in-law.

“Unbelievably, her own daughter and Rodney made up this story as well as saying her own brothers had raped her years ago,” Guy said. “This has made Carolyn and Larry ask why? Why would they say such things about their own family? I don’t know, except that Jody and Rodney conspired in an effort to be cleared from these horrific crimes and senseless murder.”

He also went on to say, “John was a native son of the State of Ohio and he will be missed by all who knew him.”

Davenport asked Cooper to impose the minimum sentence for Delawder, which would have been life in prison with the possibility of parole after 18 years.

Murder carries with it 15 years to life in prison and a gun specification tacked on another mandatory three years.

Anderson requested the judge sentence the man to 23 years to life in prison — 18 for the murder and gun specification, plus another five years for the felonious assault charge. Another five years was recommended for improperly discharging a weapon into a habitation, which would have run concurrently.

Cooper merged the murder and discharging a firearm charges together since the murder was the result of the other charge.

He sentenced Delawder to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 25 years, one year shy of the maximum possible sentence.

“I felt that fit the evidence I had seen in the case,” Cooper said.

Delawder said he still loved the McKnight family and said he would trade places with John if he could.

“Did I do wrong? Yes, I’m sure I did. Did Larry do wrong? Yes he did. Did John do wrong? No, he never,” he said. “John never done nothing. Only thing John was trying to do was protect us. He did not deserve what happened to him. Believe me I’d trade him places any day.

“…Please pray for me and my family, because I’m going to pay for what happened.”