George Washington Wagner IV appeared before Pike County Common Pleas Court Judge Randy Deering on a host of charges Friday that involve eight counts of murder with death penalty specifications for the deaths of eight members of the Rhoden family in 2016.
Wagner is only one of six of his family who are charged in connection with the murders. His mother, Angela Wagner, and father, George Washington “Billy” Wagner III, as well as his brother, Edward “Jake” Wagner, all are facing the death penalty if they are found guilty. Grandmothers Fredericka Wagner and Rita Newcomb are facing charges for allegedly lying to a grand jury.
Friday, Wagner IV appeared in court in street clothes and without any hand restraints visable. This, according to Deering, satisfied one of the motions defense attorneys filed on Wagner’s behalf. Deering, on another motion, was concerned about Wagner IV’s relationship with his attorneys, Charles Knight and local attorney Richard Nash.
Deering asked Wagner IV if he sees and speaks with his attorneys on what he thinks is enough time, if he gets along with his attorneys, and if he feels he is getting good representation. Wagner IV answered yes to all three questions.
A somewhat unusual request was made by Wagner IV to be placed in solitary confinement while awaiting his trial. Wagner IV is housed at the Ross County Jail. Pike County Prosecutor Rob Junk told the court where he is placed in the facility is up to the Ross County sheriff. Deering agreed, saying he wasn’t sure if that was possible at this time because Ross County is remodeling the jail facility.
Wagner IV’s attorneys told a Pike County judge he wants solitary confinement to read the Bible and “do the things that he likes to do,” according to the Associated Press.
Usually, solitary confinement is given to a prisoner who either is a threat to other prisoners or who may be in danger in the general population. Courthouse security was tight Friday with the back entrance of the courthouse roped off to allow the safe entrance and egress of Wagner IV.
In other matters relating to the hearing, Deering said there was a motion for a bill of particulars by the defense concerning the state’s evidence of DNA on Wagner IV. Knight said he has been working with the state on the matter and at this time he is satisfied.
Deering set a discovery deadline in the case for June 1. He also set the next pretrial date for May 23 at 1:30 pm.
The Wagners are charged in the murders of 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. The family members were found murdered on April 22, 2016 at four different residences in Pike County.
There were small children in the homes whose lives were not taken on that day, including a 4-day-old infant who was reportedly in bed with her deceased mother when found. The children reportedly remain in state care.
According to a press conference by Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, who at the time was attorney general, the motive in the murders may have been a custody battle between Edward Wagner and Hannah Rhoden for their daughter. He said in the press conference the eight members of the Rhoden family were, “killed execution style.”
DeWine noted this might be the largest scale murder investigation in Ohio history.
Court proceedings continue this week in Deering’s courtroom with both grandmothers, Newcomb and Fredericka Wagner appearing for pretrial on Thursday and George Wagner III will be in court on Friday for pretrial. Edward Wagner is in court for his pretrial the following week.