Man accused of forging ownership of Roseville house convicted by jury

Joseph+Hodge+listens+to+Assistant+Prosecuting+Attorney+John+Litle+as+he+questions+a+witness+Wednesday.
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Man accused of forging ownership of Roseville house convicted by jury

Joseph Hodge listens to Assistant Prosecuting Attorney John Litle as he questions a witness Wednesday.

Joseph Hodge listens to Assistant Prosecuting Attorney John Litle as he questions a witness Wednesday.

Jessica Johnston

Joseph Hodge listens to Assistant Prosecuting Attorney John Litle as he questions a witness Wednesday.

Jessica Johnston

Jessica Johnston

Joseph Hodge listens to Assistant Prosecuting Attorney John Litle as he questions a witness Wednesday.

By Christine Holmes, News Director

A man who managed to force his way into ownership of a Roseville house while deceiving officials along the way has been convicted of multiple felony crimes in Muskingum County.

On Wednesday, jurors found 32 year-old Joseph Hodge guilty on 10 counts related to the perplexing case that began in October 2018 when the true owner found Hodge living in her temporarily-vacated house.

Muskingum County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney John Litle described the case to the jury as an “ongoing, nightmarish procession of crimes.”

The house in question, located on Roseville’s N. Main Street, belonged to victim Miranda Thomas since 2016 when it was transferred to Thomas and her brother from their ill mother. Eventually, the property was recorded solely in the victim’s name following her mother’s death in April 2017.

Thomas was forced to leave the house in January 2018 when the boiler broke, leaving the mother and her two young children without heat in the middle of the winter.

Needing to relocate, her solution was to move two streets away into her late father’s house for the remainder of the season. Finally, Thomas moved in with her boyfriend’s parents in Coshocton in April.

Amidst all the moving, Thomas would still regularly check in on her home.

On Oct. 28, 2018, Thomas was driving by her house when she noticed a truck and a couple of trailers on the property.

Not wanting to expose her step-sons to whatever conflict that could arise, Thomas continued onto Crooksville to drop the boys off with their mother.

On her way back, she called the Muskingum County Sheriff’s Office to meet her at the house.

Arriving first, Thomas became impatient and decided to investigate the situation herself.

Alongside family, Thomas looked into her garage and found it empty of her possessions but full of items she had never seen before.

Thomas found the backdoor to be open, so she entered without having to use a key and found more of the same inside.

Coming down the stairs were Joseph Hodge and his girlfriend, Jessica “Nikki” Eblin.

The exchange between Thomas and Hodge became confrontational, with both parties asking what the other is doing in their house.

According to Thomas, Hodge lifted his shirt and showed a gun while threatening to kill her and her family.

Thomas retreated to the driveway where she was met by deputies.

Growing frustrated with their lack of urgency, Thomas’ family member asked deputies why they weren’t acting and reminded them of the gun threat.

A deputy did confront Hodge, who denied having a gun.

During the trial, the deputy admitted he did not search Hodge for the alleged weapon.

“Is it good law enforcement practice to just believe someone when they say they’re not armed,” Litle asked the deputy.

Upon questioning on the day of the incident, Hodge told deputies he was the owner of the house, yet he and Eblin were only able to produce a request for services through AEP as proof.

The deputies, who did not have a supervisor on duty that Sunday, decided the matter was civil and advised Thomas to file an eviction.

Before leaving, the deputies told Thomas they recommend she relocate across the street from the property so the situation did not become criminal.

Thomas remained on the sidewalk and took a phone call from a deputy who gave her further information on the eviction process.

While on the phone, Hodge came charging down the driveway, exclaiming to Thomas and her family that they were in his range of motion.

Hodge told them to move their car or he would move it for them.

At that point, Thomas’ friend had driven up to the house wanting to know what was happening.

She began recording the situation, capturing the moment when Hodge grabbed a tire iron and struck the fence close to the woman Thomas refers to has her mother-in-law.

The deputy on the phone with Thomas heard the commotion and returned to the scene which was eventually cleared.

The following day, Thomas contacted real estate attorney, Derrick Moorehead, who had just finished helping her win a case against her mother’s nursing home over possession of the house.

Moorehead’s office was able to help with the eviction notice, and Thomas returned with police assistance to post the three-day notice on the house.

“Truthfully, I was scared to even step back on my property,” Thomas told Litle while testifying.

On Oct. 31, Thomas met Roseville police officers at the municipal building located just a couple blocks away from her house on Main Street.

Before going to the police department, Thomas drove by her house and saw a pile of her belongings outside in a fire pit.

Just as Chief Joey Carr was arriving, smoke could be seen coming from Thomas’ house.

The officers took off for the house and Thomas followed on foot.

When she arrived, Thomas saw her possessions ablaze in a 12-foot fire.

“I just got to stand there and watch my stuff go up in flames,” said Thomas.

Included in the fire was a dining set that belonged to her mother.

“I actually broke down in tears,” said Thomas.

Again, Thomas was turned away without any help, being told the matter needed to be handled in court.

With Moorehead on the case, the day of the eviction hearing came on Nov. 21, 2018.

Prior to court, Moorehead stopped at the recorder’s office to obtain a copy of the deed to Thomas’ house.

While there, Moorehead saw a man, later to be known as Hodge, having a deed recorded.

Before heading into the hearing, Moorehead met with defendants Hodge and Eblin, who presented him with the deed Hodge was having recorded earlier.

Upon first glance, the deed checked out to Moorehead, leaving him to question Thomas.

Thomas denied ever selling the house or transferring it to Hodge. Moorehead pointed out to her that the signature on the deed looked almost identical to the signature Thomas left on the three-day notice.

Suspecting something peculiar, Moorehead advised Judge Scott Rankin of the situation.

But before she could go before the judge, a deputy served Thomas with a temporary protection order filed by Hodge’s girlfriend, Eblin.

Being a concealed carry license holder, Thomas was forced to forfeit her firearm and couldn’t be in the courtroom with Eblin present.

Given the circumstances, Rankin decided to postpone any decision until he could give it further thought.

While on the stand, Rankin explained that eviction hearings are very routine in his court, but not the one involving Hodge and Thomas.

Rankin said it was the “first time having an eviction hearing where the defendant claims to own the house.”

The presentation of the questionable deed complicated the situation, which Rankin said could have potentially corrupt the outcome.

Rankin said he had never heard of or experienced a circumstance such as the one he was presented with that day.

“It presents a huge problem to the administration of justice,” Rankin told the jury.

Without making a decision during the hearing, Hodge and Eblin were able to return to Thomas’ home.

Still perplexed by the situation, Moorehead began to research the defendants and the deed. He attempted to contact the woman who notarized the deed, Amy Adams, thinking her stamp had been stolen.

Adams was able to give Moorehead a description of Thomas when asked about the deed.

“It doesn’t even cross his mind that the notary would be in on it,” Litle told the jury.

Moorehead would eventually learn Adams was a friend of Eblin’s.

By then, the sheriff’s department began investigating the case as a criminal matter.

Detective Mark Ross also contacted Adams, who was uncooperative on the phone. When she met Ross in Muskingum County, she realized the seriousness of the accusations and began to tell the truth.

Adams explained to the jury that she had been asked by Eblin and Hodge to notarize the deed under the understanding that the owner no longer wanted the house.

Still, Adams had her reservations. Adams said Hodge convinced her she would never get into any criminal trouble by notarizing the deed.

“I thought I was doing a good thing for a friend,” Adams said in trial. “I didn’t want her kids to be homeless … I didn’t want her to be homeless.”

In early December, Thomas returned to court for a hearing on her protection order. It was then decided that the protection order be dropped and a couple days later, Thomas regained possession of her house.

Finally having the opportunity to walk through her own home, Thomas was able to see all that was missing.

Virtually nothing of hers existed, including the appliances.

All the sentimental possessions she had, including keepsakes from her children’s births and her parents’ funerals were gone.

Thomas explained that she had no more pictures to look back on. Her family heirlooms were gone.

“It was everything to my kids,” testified Thomas. “Everything to me.”

Eventually, Thomas found some of her items for sale by Hodge and Eblin on Facebook Marketplace.

While going through the house, Thomas took photos of each room and discovered several notebooks with notes about real estate law and the dimensions for creating a deed.

She also noticed what appeared to be her first initial repeatedly written on a sheet of paper. Along with the notebooks, Thomas found law books about real estate and a dictionary of real estate terms.

Those books were turned over to investigators.

Looking through the notes during trial, Moorehead commented that it was “really impressive research.”

Despite the lies presented to law enforcement and the courts, detectives were able to present a case to prosecutors against Hodge and Eblin, who were both arrested and charged.

During his closing arguments, Litle explained that Thomas did all the right things each step of the way, but no one ever fought for her until Moorehead looked into the matter himself.

“Poor law enforcement work is what it was,” said Litle.

During the deputy’s testimony, Litle asked him if the audacity of lies contributed to his poor decision making.

“If you had this situation to do over, would it be done the same way,” Litle asked the deputy.

“No, sir,” the deputy answered.

After about four hours of deliberation, the jury found Hodge guilty on all counts:

  • Aggravated burglary (two counts), first-degree felonies
  • Forgery (two counts), fifth-degree felonies
  • Vandalism, fourth-degree felony
  • Arson, fourth-degree felony
  • Tampering with evidence, third-degree felony
  • Tampering with records, third-degree felony
  • Engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity (two counts), first-degree felonies

“We are very satisfied with the jury’s verdict,” said Litle. “This outcome gives some validation and, hopefully, peace to a victim who has suffered immensely due not only to the Defendant’s actions, but also due to the entire circumstances surrounding the case.”

Even though Hodge has been convicted, the entire situation is still not over for Thomas.

The deed to her house is still officially recorded in Hodge’s name and will require an additional legal process to eradicate.

Additionally, the co-defendant in the case, Eblin, is still pending trial on the same charges.

“It has been a living nightmare,” Thomas told the jury.