COLUMBUS, Ohio – A suspect in the April slaying of four Ohio family members told a relative after the killings that he would rather die than go to jail, according to interviews police conducted after the suspect died in a shootout with officers.
Randle Roberts entered his mother's house in Columbus on April 30, the morning of the killings, went upstairs with a gun in his hand and sat on the bed, according to police interviews released to The Associated Press through a public records request. Roberts had apparently just driven the nearly 100 miles from West Union, where he had fatally shot four people earlier that morning.
Billie Blankenship tried to take the gun away from his stepson, but Roberts refused, the records show.
"I'm not going to jail for the rest of my life," Roberts said, according to the police interview with Blankenship.
His stepfather knew Roberts was wanted on a burglary warrant and tried to explain that he wouldn't serve very long.
"No, this is for murder and I'm not going to jail for the rest of my life," Roberts said. "I rather die first."
Roberts then walked out of the bedroom, went downstairs, walked past his mother and wife and started shooting at police officers outside the house, the records show.
A police officer who confronted Roberts outside the house told investigators he came quickly out the front door.
"The suspect was looking directly at me and I heard a series of gunshots, which I believed was the suspect shooting at me," Sgt. Robert Forsythe said in an interview with police investigators afterward. "I fell backwards onto my back as I fired my shotgun at the suspect."
Roberts' blood-alcohol content was 0.21 at the time of his death, or nearly three times the legal limit in Ohio, according to a police summary of the autopsy report.
Three officers were injured during the shootout but survived. Roberts' stepbrother, Jeffrey Blankenship, who was also staying with his mother that day, was also shot in the leg in the crossfire and also survived.
Several relatives interviewed by police say Roberts became addicted to painkillers after a 2008 back surgery and stole frequently to support his habit. His wife, Tiffany Walters, told police the addiction caused her to leave him about three months earlier. She said the past year had been the worst for the addiction.
"Tiffany stated that although Randle never said he was going to kill himself or anyone, he would always say that he would never go back to prison," according to the police interview with Walters.
But Roberts' mother, Carol Roberts-Blankenship, told police her son would do anything to avoid jail, including suicide.
"Ms. Blankenship claimed that when Randle was high, he would say things such as he would kill himself instead of going to jail, which is when the police were looking for him in the past," she told investigators, according to records reviewed by the AP.
Sheriff's deputies and U.S. marshals searched for Roberts earlier in the spring after he failed to appear on a warrant charging him with burglary in Delaware County.
No one could explain why he killed the four family members including an 11-year-old girl.
"She does not know what must have set him off to do what he did," Walters told police, records show. "She cannot understand why he would harm her family because they were helping him out."
Killed in the April 30 shooting in West Union, a village in southern Ohio, were Walters' grandfather George Stephens, 68; Kendra Stephens, 34, and her 11-year-old daughter, Harley; and Kendra Stephens' sister-in-law, Sonja Stephens, 46.
Kendra Stephens' 8-year-old daughter was not harmed in the shooting; police say they don't know why she was spared.
Roberts was staying in the house helping to care for George Stephens, who had health problems, said Lt. Jim Heitkemper, chief of investigations at the Adams County Sheriff's Office.
Heitkemper said he's still trying to figure out what happened.
"He wouldn't have had to kill everybody. A lot of people knew he was down here," Heitkemper told the AP. "What was he trying to cover up, what was he trying to accomplish? What was his motivation behind what he did? These are all the unanswered questions."
Court records show Roberts was a suspect in several burglaries. But other police reports obtained by the AP show that he also had a tendency toward violence.
On Aug. 12, 2010, Roberts kicked open the door to a house just west of downtown Columbus while holding a shotgun and threatened the man living inside, Robert Price, whom he suspected of having an affair with his wife, according to police records.
After Price refused to come out, Roberts went around back and fired several shots at Price's car, the police report said.
No charges were filed because Price and two other people at the house failed to pick Roberts out of a photo array. But Price told the AP those pictures showed Roberts with facial hair, when he knew him with a shaved head. Roberts also had a distinctive tattoo of a cross on his abdomen that Price had seen before when Roberts was dropping his wife off to work at the Columbus Zoo.
He said Walters was his boss at the zoo's services department and there was nothing between them.
"I knew it was him," Price, 29, said in an interview. "I told the cops. I said I'm a thousand percent positive it was him."