published Saturday, February 25th, 2012

Gordon County deputies called to home 3 times before slaying

Matthew Rhinehart had muttered threats of harming himself and his parents three months before he was accused of shooting his father to death last year, police reports show.

Steve and Susan Rhinehart told police at the time that they didn't know what their son meant by his mutterings but requested an official report be filed for future reference, according to an incident report. Deputies with the Gordon County, Ga., Sheriff's Office gave Matthew Rhinehart a ride to a motel and later recommended counseling for the 35-year-old, but didn't charge him.

Authorities were called back two more times in January after Matthew Rhinehart became irate with his parents, the report shows. The second time he kicked in a door after he was locked out.

But in both cases, he was only charged with a misdemeanor -- disorderly conduct the first time, criminal trespass the second.

Back in July, Matthew Rhinehart had called 911 from his parents' house, asking to be taken to a mental health facility, 911 records show. He told dispatchers he had a drug problem but had been clean for a year. The report didn't indicate whether he actually was taken to a facility or why he wanted to go.

On Feb. 16, Matthew Rhinehart pleaded guilty to criminal trespassing, and a judge sentenced him to 12 months probation and ordered him to stay away from his parents' home, said Cherokee Judicial Circuit District Attorney Joe Campbell. That was four days before 62-year-old Steve Rhinehart was shot to death in his workshop on the family property.

After hearing gunshots, Susan Rhinehart saw her son walking away from his father's shop, where the shots came from. She locked herself in the bathroom and called 911, a report showed.

He, too, called 911 and told the dispatcher that he had shot his father, but he said his father had attacked him, the 911 report showed.

When authorities arrived, Matthew Rhinehart was arrested and later charged with murder and aggravated assault, police said.

Campbell said Matthew Rhinehart broke the law by even coming onto his parents' property. There is no evidence that Steve Rhinehart had a weapon with him when his son showed up, Campbell said.

Reports show Matthew Rhinehart had been living with his parents off and on for several months, most recently after losing his job. But his parents told police he would never leave when they asked and he would come back whenever he wanted.

"They were in fear of him," Campbell said.

On Jan. 17, they asked him to leave again after he became violent and threatened to buy a gun to kill himself, a police report states. After that incident, he was involuntarily committed to a mental health facility, but on Jan. 24 he escaped and showed up at his parents' house again, another sheriff's report states.

When his parents locked him out, he kicked the door in. Authorities took him back to the mental health facility in Dalton, Ga., and charged him with criminal trespass, the report states.

Reports aren't clear if he had been released from the facility or snuck out again when he went to the Rhineharts' the day of the shooting.

Matthew Rhinehart remains in Gordon County Jail without bond. The Gordon County Public Defender's office is representing him, but on Friday, an office employee said an attorney hasn't been able to speak with him yet.

Funeral services for Steve Rhinehart will be held today at 3 p.m. in the Max Brannon and Sons Funeral Home chapel in Calhoun, Ga. His family will receive friends from 1-3 p.m.

about Joy Lukachick...

Joy Lukachick is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press Since 2009, she's covered breaking news, high-profile trials, stories of lost lives and of regained hope and done investigative work. Raised near the Bayou, Joy’s hometown is along the outskirts of Baton Rouge, La. She has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication from Louisiana State University. While at LSU, Joy was a staff writer for the Daily Reveille. When Joy isn't chasing ...

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