PIKE COUNTY — At this point, very early on in the prosecution of the four people directly charged with the murders of eight members of the Rhoden family in Pike County in 2016, gaining discovery, or information, from prosecutors appears, somewhat predictably, to be the main thing on the minds of defense attorneys.
On Monday, family matriarch Angela Wagner, 48, charged with a total of 22 counts, most notably including eight counts of aggravated murder, each of which carries death penalty specifications, was the second member of the Wagner family to face Pike County Court of Common Pleas Judge Randy Deering for a brief pretrial hearing. The court session largely followed the script set during the late December pretrial hearing of suspect Edward “Jake” Wagner, 26, the son of Angela Wagner and George “Billy” Washington Wagner III, who is yet another murder suspect in the Rhoden case.
As he did with her son, Deering begin the brief proceedings Monday by asking Angela Wagner if she had an opportunity to speak with her court-appointed attorneys and was satisfied with their handling of her case to date.
In both instances, Angela Wagner quietly answered, “Yes, Your Honor.” Those were the only words she spoke during the hearing, with the possible exception of whispered comments to her attorneys, who were seated on either side of her.
Deering’s next questions were directed to those defense attorneys. He asked if they were satisfied with the prosecution’s responses to their request for discovery, that is, additional information on the evidence the state claims to have against their client. Columbus-based attorney Robert Krapenc showed off a three- or four-inch thick sheaf of papers and told Deering he was expecting more information from prosecutors by the end of the week. With all that in mind, Krapenc said he was indeed satisfied with prosecutors to this point.
Because of what was described as the voluminous amount of materials coming from prosecutors, the defense asked for and was granted without objection from prosecutors an extension of time to file pretrial motions. Deering specifically stated there is no deadline on motions at this point. Last month, Edward Wagner’s attorneys made and were granted the same request regarding motions.
In one slight deviation from the script of Edward Wagner’s pretrial, prosecutors asked for and were granted an order barring Angela Wagner from communication of any kind with the other suspects in the case. Krapenc told the judge he had no objection to that request and had in fact advised his client not to contact the other suspects “from day one.”
All four of the Wagner family members directly charged with the murders are being held without possibility of bail. Following Monday’s brief hearing, Angela Wagner was returned to jail but will be back in court 1:30 p.m. March 20. That hearing may contain more substance than hearings to date. Deering indicated it may last half a day depending on how far along the defense is in gaining discovery and what pretrial motions they have made to that point.
The case against the Wagner family continues Thursday when grandmothers Fredericka Wagner, 76, and Rita Newcomb, 65, both will be in court for initial pretrial hearings. Fredericka Wagner is set to be before Deering at 10 a.m., while Newcomb’s first hearing is set for 2:30 p.m.
Both Newcomb and Fredericka Wagner face multiple counts, including felony charges of obstructing justice and perjury. The latter charges stem from false testimony the two allegedly presented in July to a Pike County grand jury investigating the murders. Newcomb also faces forgery charges. Fredericka Wagner is George Wagner III’s mother. Newcomb is the mother of Angela Wagner. They are the only two suspects in the Rhoden case to have been released on bail, though each is under electronically monitored house arrest and barred from any contact with any member of the Rhoden family.
Deering has imposed a gag order on all persons officially connected with the case and neither prosecutors nor defense attorneys had any comment following Monday’s hearing.