Angela Wagner, one of four members of a family charged with causing the deaths of eight members of the Rhoden family in 2016, appeared in Pike County Common Pleas Court for a second pretrial hearing.
At about 3:05 p.m., Wednesday — about an hour and a half after the hearing was supposed to begin — a bailiff in the Pike County Court of Common Pleas asked all those in the courtroom to rise, announcing the arrival of Judge Randy Deering. Deering sat on the judge’s bench and quickly began the proceedings, announcing that Wagner’s pretrial was beginning. But Deering looked up from his desk and noticed the defendant was not in the courtroom.
One of Wagner’s attorneys returned to the area behind the courtroom where prisoners are held prior to trials, and he and a sheriff’s deputy reappeared with Wagner dressed in a striped jail shirt. No explanation for her initial absence from the pretrial was given.
Once Wagner was seated, the pretrial lasted roughly five minutes. Deering stated, with the agreement of counsel on both sides, many of the 49 pretrial motions filed by defense attorneys would be dealt with at a later date. Deering stated both the prosecution and the defense needed more time to review all the evidence and discovery connected with the complicated death penalty case.
Discovery is essentially counsel’s request for evidence and materials related to the matter at hand.
“The court is permitting (this) because it is important that we be ready to hear these motions,” Deering said.
Deering said the defense has until Sept. 1 to file any of what he called substantive pretrial motions. Prosecutors will then have until Sept. 16 to respond to those motions. At the same time, Deering set a pretrial hearing on all substantive issues for 1:30 p.m. Sept. 16. He also set another pretrial, presumably dealing with non-substantive issues, for May 16.
In this context, “substantive” refers to motions dealing with the substance of the case, namely evidentiary issues and similar questions. Notably, those substantive issues do not include Wagner’s request for a change of venue filed in December. Court observers seem to feel that issue will not be taken up until much closer to whatever trial date finally emerges. The state’s initial response to the change of venue request was filed with Deering on March 7.
Deering did not specifically discuss what issues he considered substantive. Neither prosecutors nor the defense team were able to discuss the question of what motions might be considered substantive since Deering has imposed a gag order mandating no one connected with the case speak with the media.
As have the defense teams of the other suspects in the Rhoden case, Wagner’s attorneys have filed a motion to have her appear in court in civilian clothes. Judging from the fact she appeared Wednesday in jail garb, Deering has yet to rule on that motion.
Some court observers claimed Wagner was wearing a bulletproof vest beneath her jail jumper in court Wednesday. Again, since court personnel are under the same gag order as attorneys connected with the case, the presence of a bulletproof vest could not be confirmed.
The next pretrial scheduled in the Rhoden case was set for Friday. The son of Angela Wagner, George Wagner IV, was set to be in front of Deering at 1:30 p.m.
As previously reported, those charged in the Rhoden murders were Angela Wagner, George “Billy” Wagner III, and their sons George Wagner IV and Edward “Jake” Wagner.
Those murdered were Hannah Gilley, 20, Christopher Rhoden Sr., 40, Christopher Rhoden Jr., 16, Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden, 20, Dana Rhoden, 37, Gary Rhoden, 38, Hanna Rhoden, 19, and Kenneth Rhoden, 44. All the bodies were located on Union Road just off SR 32 in Pike County, at three separate homes, except one which was located on Left Fork Road. All those murdered were adults except for a 16-year-old boy, according to the Ohio Attorney General’s office at the time of the incident.
Two grandmothers, Rita Newcomb of South Webster and Fredericka Wagner of Lucasville, were also charged with felony obstruction of justice and perjury for allegedly misleading investigators. Newcomb was also charged with forgery involving a custody case with one of the children.