Edward “Jake” Wagner, one of four members of his family facing murder charges in the slayings of eight in Pike County in 2016, appeared for a pretrial in Pike County Common Pleas Court on Thursday.
The hearing began roughly one hour after its scheduled start time of 11 a.m. and lasted for perhaps 10 minutes. Dressed in street clothes with the judge’s permission and surrounded by his court-appointed attorneys, Wagner, 26, appeared calm and said nothing except to answer simple questions from Judge Randy Deering.
Prior to the hearing, Wagner’s attorneys filed several motions on their client’s behalf.
One motion was to allow Wagner to appear in court in civilian clothes as opposed to the brightly colored jail jumpsuit he wore to his arraignment last month. Attorneys also asked that Wagner be allowed to enter the courtroom without shackles. Deering agreed to the motion for street clothes but denied the request for Wagner to be free of even handcuffs. The judge did instruct the Pike County Sheriff’s Office to investigate alternative means of restraining Wagner and report back to the court.
Other motions were largely routine. The defense made a demand for discovery but upon questioning by Deering, Wagner’s attorneys indicated they are satisfied with the state’s response to their discovery requests so far. The defense also asked for and was granted an extension of time to file pretrial motions.
Two additional motions will be settled at a later date. The defense submitted what Deering said was 25 pages of requests for a bill of particulars, which provides additional information on the case beyond what might be contained in an indictment. Deering said he expected the prosecution and defense attorneys to work out any differences over the bill of particulars or the issue could come up again when Wagner appears for his second pretrial hearing set for Jan. 24.
One final motion would limit the people allowed to communicate with the defendant, who is being held without chance of bond. The motion likely is an attempt by the defense to limit Wagner’s contact with jail personnel and/or other inmates. Deering noted this is a separate motion from the gag order already in place, which prevents any official connected with the various Rhoden cases from speaking with the media. On this motion, Deering instructed defense attorneys to create a proposal and present it to him prior to Wagner’s next pretrial hearing.
Wagner faces a total of 23 counts, including eight counts of aggravated murder, one for each of the victims in the Rhoden massacre. Each of those counts carries death penalty specifications.
Wagner, his parents, George Washington “Billy” Wagner III and Angela Wagner, along with his brother, George Wagner IV, all face the same eight charges as well as charges of conspiracy, forgery and breaking and entering. Prosecutors claim the Wagners broke into the homes of the victims in order to commit the murders.
Additionally, Edward Wagner was charged with sexual conduct with a minor for fathering a child with Hanna Rhoden, one of the murder victims. Prior to Deering’s gag order, officials said custody of Edward Wagner and Hanna Rhoden’s child might be at the heart of what led to the massacre.
As did all six people arraigned in connection with the murders, Edward Wagner pled not guilty to all charges.
Among the various defendants, next up in court should be Angela Wagner, who is scheduled for a pretrial on Jan. 7. George Wagner IV is slated to be in court two days later on Jan. 9. Two grandmothers charged in the case – neither charged directly with the murders – are both scheduled for pretrial hearings Jan. 10.
Fredericka Wagner, 76, and Rita Newcomb, 65, were arraigned Nov. 14 and are the only suspects in the case released on bail, though each is also under electronically monitored house arrest and barred from any contact with the families of the victims. Both face felony charges of obstructing justice and perjury. The latter charges stem from alleged false testimony presented in July to a Pike County grand jury investigating the murders.
Newcomb also faces forgery charges, relating to allegedly false documents regarding custody of Edward Wagner and Hanna Rhoden’s daughter. Fredericka Wagner is the elder George Wagner’s mother. Newcomb is mother to Angela Wagner.