The jury trial of Rita Jo Newcomb, 66, the mother of Angela Wagner, has been postponed once more. According to the Pike County Common Pleas Court website, Newcomb’s trial has been rescheduled for Monday, Dec. 2.
As reported in previous editions of The Times-Gazette, Newcomb’s trial is related to the murders of seven members of the Rhoden family and 20-year-old Hannah Gilley in April 2016.
Newcomb was arrested at her home in Scioto County on Nov. 13, 2018 and charged with felony obstruction of justice, perjury for allegedly misleading investigators, and forgery involving a custody case. She pled not guilty at her arraignment in the Pike County Common Pleas Court before Judge Randy Deering on Nov. 15, 2018. Deering set Newcomb’s bond for $50,000, and she was placed on electronically monitored house arrest.
On the same day Newcomb was arrested, George “Billy” Wagner III; his wife, Angela Wagner; and their sons George Wagner IV and Edward “Jake” Wagner were also arrested. The Wagners were listed as persons of interest in the case the year before their arrest.
The Wagners were each charged with eight counts of aggravated murder with death penalty specifications, as well as charges of tampering with evidence, conspiracy, aggravated burglary, and forgery of child custody documents.
Fredericka Wagner, the elder George’s mother, was also arrested on Nov. 13, 2018 and was charged with felony obstruction of justice and perjury for allegedly misleading investigators. Fredericka was also placed on house arrest, though she was released from house arrest in June 2019.
As reported in articles that previously appeared in The Times-Gazette, Newcomb’s jury trial has been rescheduled three times. Her trial was originally scheduled for July 8, 2019, but was rescheduled for Oct. 21. The Portsmouth Daily Times reported that Judge Deering never explained this delay. However, when Newcomb’s Oct. 21 trial was rescheduled for Nov. 18, the Daily Times reported that prosecutors requested the delay because an investigator whose testimony they felt was necessary to the case was unable to attend the trial on Oct. 21.
According to the Pike County Common Pleas Court website, state prosecutors requested a status conference on Nov. 13 and then “orally requested the jury trial be continued” as scheduled on Nov. 18. Newcomb’s counsel then “expressed the defendant’s objection to a continuance of the trial.” On Nov. 14, Angela Canepa, a special prosecutor assigned to the case by the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, filed a motion and memorandum to continue the jury trial as scheduled. On Nov. 15, Canepa’s motion was overruled and denied. The common pleas court website then noted that both the prosecution and the defense agreed on the trial being moved to Dec. 2.
In November 2018, Pike County Prosecutor Rob Junk said the case could take two years to prosecute.
Newcomb is on trial for perjury, obstruction of justice and three counts of forgery. The Daily Times reported that, before Deering’s gag order preventing attorneys involved in the case from speaking to the media, state prosecutors said a custody battle over the daughter of Edward “Jake” Wagner and the late Hannah Rhoden was the reason behind the murders of the Rhoden family and Gilley.
On April 22, 2016, Christopher Rhoden Sr., 40; Dana Rhoden, 37; Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden, 20; Hannah Rhoden, 19; Christopher Rhoden Jr., 16; Kenneth Rhoden, 44; Gary Rhoden, 38; and Hannah Gilley were killed in what then-Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine called “pre-planned executions.” As previously reported by The Times-Gazette, the bodies of the seven Rhodens and Gilley were located at three separate homes: two of which were located on Union Road just off SR 32 in Pike County; the other home was located on Left Fork Road.
Three children, including a newborn, a 3-year-old, and a 6-month-old were found alive in the homes following the murders.
News sources such as The Associated Press reported that one of the young women was fatally shot in the head while she laid in bed next to her newborn, who was four days old at the time. The Associated Press reported that authorities stated some of the victims, though not all, were in found bed, indicating they were shot while sleeping.
The Associated Press reported that authorities, including then-Pike County Sheriff Charles Reader, urged local residents to stay inside and lock their doors following the murders. Surviving members of the Rhoden family were urged to “take precautions.”
Reader himself is facing trial. As previously reported in The Times-Gazette, on Nov. 9, 2018, the Pike County auditor’s office received an anonymous complaint alleging that, while he served as Pike County sheriff, Reader was a compulsive gambler who kept cash confiscated on drug cases for personal use and who borrowed thousands of dollars from investigators connected with the sheriff’s department. The complaint went on to allege that Reader removed impounded cars from the police lot for his daughter’s use.
In June, a grand jury indicted Reader on a total of 16 felony and misdemeanor counts. According to the Pike County Common Pleas Court website, at his arraignment on July 2, Reader pled not guilty. At press time, the common pleas court website stated that Reader has been charged with tampering with evidence, tampering with records, securing writings by deception, four counts of theft in office, seven counts of conflict of interest, and two counts of theft.
On Sept. 25, Reader waived his right to a speedy trial. His final pretrial was on Nov. 20. His jury trial is set for April 20, 2020.
Reach McKenzie Caldwell at 937-402-2570.