Perhaps it’s not surprising given the fact the overall case involves eight murders and six suspects — four of whom face the death penalty — but defense requests for discovery, or evidence held by the prosecution, remains the driving force in the ongoing Rhoden murder trials.
In June, Pike County Court of Common Pleas Judge Randy Deering set a September date for the start of the aggravated murder trial of George Wagner IV. During Wagner IV’s first court appearance since early June on Wednesday, Deering granted the request of the suspect’s attorneys and continued his trial to an as yet undetermined date.
Speaking for the defense, attorney Richard Nash said the biggest reason for his continuance request is the amount of discovery still on its way from the prosecution.
“That’s a great deal of material for defense to look at, I’m sure,” Deering said.
During a pretrial for Wagner IV’s mother, Angela Wagner, who also faces the death penalty, Deering said it was his understanding some four terabytes of information still needed to be delivered by the prosecution to Angela Wagner’s defense team. As previously noted, one terabyte of information is enough to hold 500 hours worth of movies.
Wagner IV’s defense team has at least six outstanding pretrial motions on which Deering has not rendered a decision. The judge described those motions as non-substantive, meaning they are standard motions and no evidence or witnesses need be presented before he can render a decision. Deering set an Aug. 31 deadline for the defense to present any further such motions and gave the state until Sept. 13 to respond. Should either side feel the need to present oral arguments on those motions, that hearing is set for Sept. 20. Deering said officials will decide on a new trial date once discovery issues seem more settled.
Next up in the Rhoden trials is what is advertised as the last pretrial for Rita Newcomb, charged with perjury, obstruction of justice and forgery. That pretrial is slated for Thursday.
Newcomb is the first of the six suspects scheduled to go to a jury trial, with that date set for Oct. 21. At last month’s pretrial for Newcomb, Deering warned attorneys to expect her trial to begin on that date. As previously reported, Newcomb’s trial could represent the first chance for the public and the media to get a real look at the evidence in the Rhoden cases. Little if any of the prosecution’s case has come out during the numerous pretrials to date and Deering long ago barred anyone connected with the cases from speaking to the media.
Newcomb’s case eventually may be the key to the entire Rhoden murder mystery. Before the imposition of Deering’s gag order, prosecutors said a custody battle over the daughter of Jake Wagner and one of the victims, Hanna Rhoden, is the reason behind the massacre. Newcomb’s forgery charge stems from her allegedly creating false custody documents.
Jake Wagner is the grandson of Rita Newcomb and George Wagner IV’s younger brother. Deering has not set a trial date for Edward Wagner. He did set a date of Sept. 17 for a motion hearing in Edward Wagner’s case. Last month, Deering granted a request by Edward Wagner’s defense for an ex parte hearing on issues related to bringing in experts to testify for the defense. While Deering indicated the court will videotape the hearing, ex parte hearings, by definition, take place out of the earshot of the public and the media.