A new date has been set for the trial of Rita Jo Newcomb, one of two grandmothers in the Pike County Wagner family charged indirectly with involvement in the 2016 murders of eight members of the Rhoden and Gilley families.
According to the Pike County Common Pleas Court website, Newcomb now will face a jury beginning 8:30 a.m. Nov. 18. Newcomb’s trail was scheduled to begin Monday, and it is not clear why the new date was agreed upon between the court and attorneys for all sides.
Unless something changes in regard to the timetables set for the other suspects in the Rhoden case, Newcomb will be the first member of her family allegedly connected with the 2016 massacre to go to trial.
Originally, Pike County Common Pleas Court Judge Randy Deering set Newcomb’s jury trial for July 8. That trial never happened and Deering rescheduled it for Oct. 21.
Deering never gave any specific reason for the delay in the July trial. But from his comments at the time, it could be because of the massive amounts of discovery exchanging hands between prosecution and defense attorneys slowed the process.
As the date for the Oct. 21 date for the trial approached, prosecutors requested another delay due to the fact that an investigator whose testimony they feel is necessary to their case would not have been available on that date.
As previously reported, Newcomb’s trial could hold the key to the mystery of the Rhoden murders. Prior to Deering imposing a gag order preventing anyone connected with the case from speaking to the media, prosecutors, including then-Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, indicated custody of the daughter of murder suspect Edward Wagner and murder victim Hanna Rhoden was possibly the motive for the murders.
Edward Wagner is Newsome’s grandson.
One other circumstance could make the trial significant. Newcomb’s time in front of a jury could be the first chance for the public and media to gain a glimpse of the case prosecutors have compiled against any members of the Wagner family.
Pretrials held to date revealed little in in the way of specifics regarding the various cases.
Newcomb faces charges of forgery, obstructing justice and perjury. The last charge is related to testimony she gave to a Pike County grand jury in relation to the Rhoden murders. Prior to the July trial date, Newcomb attorney Franklin Gerlach submitted a motion to have all charges against his client dismissed, arguing there were irregularities evident during the grand jury hearings.
His dismissal motion further asserted Pike County is not the proper venue for the forgery charge. Prosecutors allege Newcomb faked custody documents related to the daughter of Edward Wagner and Hanna Rhoden. Gerlach argued Newcomb lived in Scioto County at the time the alleged forgeries were created.
According to the motion Gerlach filed, “the custody documents in question in the indictment do not indicate where the alleged forgery took place. At all times relevant, defendant was a resident in Scioto County and did not have transportation to Pike County.”
Gerlach went on to claim an attorney for the prosecution told defense counsel the documents were taken to Newcomb’s home in Scioto County “where they were allegedly notarized by the defendant.”
After hearing contested testimony from Newcomb and a sheriff’s office administrative secretary – who acted as a court reporter during Newcomb’s appearance in front of the grand jury – Deering rejected Gerlach’s dismissal motion.
Deering said he remained unconvinced any irregularities existed, let alone problems serious enough to result in the dismissal of charges. Deering also ruled against Gerlach’s request to dismiss or move Newcomb’s forgery trial out of Pike County because of the defense’s jurisdictional questions.
Reach Tom Corrigan at 740-370-0715.