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Victim's family vows to follow court case as suspect pleads not guilty in deaths of 2 women

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Sitting side-by-side and offering comfort to one another, Jennifer Shively's family members appeared in Lucas County Common Pleas Court to see the man authorities believe strangled the young mother and placed her weighted-down body in shallow water.

Rodney Dean Wahl, Sr., 39, pleaded not guilty Wednesday to two counts of aggravated murder and one count of murder. He was ordered held on a $5 million bond.

Wahl is charged in the strangulation death of Ms. Shively, 26, who was found Aug. 25 in an Ottawa County marina. He also faces charges for the Sept. 11 death of Ursula Graves, 42, who died from a combination of alcohol and heroin.

"This has been a long seven months," said Esther Swope, Ms. Shively's mother, of the time between her daughter's murder and a suspect's arrest. "My daughter didn't hurt anybody."

Members of Ms. Graves' family were not in court Wednesday.

A mother of five, Ms. Shively went missing Aug. 15. Her body was found 10 days later in 3 feet of water at Lamberjack's Marina in Oak Harbor, miles away from where she was last seen.

An autopsy revealed she died of strangulation before she was weighted by two concrete blocks and hidden in the water. Her arms were bound and her feet were tied together.

Authorities believe Wahl and Ms. Shively got into an argument prior to her disappearance.

The mother of six children, Ms. Graves died at about 5 p.m. Sept. 11 as a result of alcohol and heroin. Authorities identified her as a potential witness connected to the case involving Ms. Shively.

Police said that because he was an acquaintance of Ms. Shively, Wahl was at one time a potential witness in the case. He became a suspect based on witness interviews and inconsistencies in his own statement to police about both deaths, authorities said.

Judge Linda Jennings set a May 4 trial date. If convicted, Wahl faces up to life in prison.

Raymond Smith, Ms. Shively's older brother, said Wednesday his sister will one day receive justice. He said his family is ready for a long process ahead and intends to be there every step of the way.

"This is the first of many court dates that we'll be at," he said.

Contact Erica Blake at:

eblake@theblade.com

or 419-213-2134.

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