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Published: Wednesday, 5/15/2013

Parole denied over 1985 fatal fire

Next chance won’t be until 2021

Rhoda Maddox Rhoda Maddox

A former Perrysburg Township woman convicted of setting a fire that killed seven of her family members will spend at least another eight years in prison.

The Ohio Parole Board voted to keep Rhoda Maddox, 64, behind bars. Her next opportunity for parole will come in March, 2021.

“I am excited to hear that, and I am very relieved,” said Deb Maddox, a daughter-in-law of Awilda Maddox, who died in the fire. “We were shooting for 10 years; praise the Lord we got eight.”

Maddox pleaded guilty in Wood County Common Pleas Court in 1988 to seven counts of involuntary manslaughter and one count of aggravated arson for the Dec. 27, 1985, blaze that killed her mother, Awilda Maddox, 69; Awilda’s son, Curtis Maddox, Jr., 33, and his five children who ranged in age from 7 to 10 years.

The boyfriend of Rhoda Maddox, Orville Wheeler, Jr., was convicted of the same charges after a jury trial. Now 69, he is scheduled to appear before the parole board today. Members of the Maddox family also oppose his release.

In 1988, Rhoda Maddox told the court she set the fire because she was mad that she had gotten yarn as a Christmas gift from her mother when her brothers had received a video cassette recorder.

She said Wheeler convinced her to set the fire in retribution and told her how to make it look like an accident.

Fire officials initially determined the fire to be accidental, saying it was caused by ashes falling from a potbellied stove used to heat her mother’s Perrysburg Heights house. New information came to investigators’ attention in 1988, leading to the two arrests.

Bret Vinocur, president of Block Parole, Inc., said he was grateful for the more than 200 letters that were submitted to the parole board through that spoke eloquently of the need to keep the two in prison.

“I’m extremely pleased,” he said. “I commend the parole board. It’s obvious they weighed the facts, they took the input of the family and the community and law enforcement, and absolutely made the best decision in the interest of public safety.”

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