Judging from two lengthy memorandas filed by the state along with its motion to dismiss charges against 77-year-old Fredericka Wagner, it would seem almost certain prosecutors in the case plan to refile charges against the matriarch of the Wagner family, of whom five members presently are charged with various crimes in connection with what is commonly referred to as the 2016 Rhoden family massacre.
At what was advertised as being Fredericka Wagner’s final pretrial before a jury trial slated to begin late this month, Pike County Prosecutor Rob Junk and state Special Prosecutor Angela Canepa filed a motion, granted by Pike County Common Pleas Judge Randy Deering, to dismiss all charges against Wagner.
At the prosecution’s request, Deering left in place what amounts to a gag order on attorneys connected with the case. Defense counsel James Owen initially expressed confusion as to whether that order extended to Wagner herself. Still, for her part, Wagner said prosecutors dropped the case because she is innocent.
She further quoted Scripture to a small group of reporters following the hearing.
“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart and lean not unto thine own understanding, in all thy ways acknowledge him and he shall direct thy paths,” Wagner said, adding, “King Solomon said that.”
Owen apparently decided the gag order does not apply to his client. He was able to ask her how she felt dismissal of her case would affect the trials of other members of her family, especially the four charged directly with the eight 2016 murders. Wagner indicated that question was better put to her attorney.
“I don’t think anybody knows,” Owen said.
Following the hearing, Wagner was free to leave the courtroom and released from the house arrest she has been under for the last several months. Court personnel initially were unable to remove the ankle bracelet she wore, but indicated it would be taken off shortly. Reporters asked Wagner what the first thing she might do now that she is, at least temporarily, a free woman. Wagner did not answer, and was escorted away from media by Owen.
“I don’t know,” Owen said. “Maybe she’ll have a party.”
Responding again to media questions, Owen declined to speculate as to whether Wagner now is free to visit with other members of her family currently under arrest.
In the first memorandum filed with the court, prosecutors begin by noting Wagner had been charged with obstructing justice and perjury.
“The conduct underlying these offenses is alleged to have incurred in front of the grand jury on July 24, 2018,” the memorandum says. “On March 14, 2019, the state of Ohio received information from the defense for the first time that is now being investigated and analyzed by the Cyber Crimes Unit and the Criminal Intelligence Unit of the Ohio Attorney General’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation. This investigation is ongoing, and has already led to new and favorable evidence, but it will take more time to complete.”
The memorandum goes on to note prosecutors need the results of that investigation to complete their case. Prosecutors further wrote the results of the investigation would, by law, need to be shared as discovery with the defense team. Basically, the state argued it did not have time to complete the needed study, then turn results over to the defense team with sufficient time for those attorneys to review the material prior to trial. They further noted the time frame for providing Wagner with a speedy trial continues to tick away.
“By the state’s calculations, the time in which to bring the defendant to trial will run out on Aug. 3, 2019 and the jury trial in this matter is currently set for July 29, 2019,” the memorandum reads. “As it appears, the investigation will not be complete by the time the defendant is set for trial, the state seeks dismissal without prejudice so that the case may be refiled after the state of Ohio has concluded its investigation.”
Essentially, the key issue in the case against Wagner is her alleged purchase of bulletproof vests prosecutors apparently believe were used in commission of the murders. In the second memorandum to the court, prosecutors claim Wagner testified she purchased all of the body armor after the murders because she was afraid for the safety of her son, George “Billy” Wagner IV, who now is charged with eight counts of aggravated murder with death penalty specifications.
According to the memorandum, prosecutors claim Fredericka Wagner told a grand jury “repeatedly… that she purchased the items on Amazon, that she had already printed out the records, and that she would provide them to the state.” However, prosecutors later claimed “the defense has arguably engaged in… dilatory tactics.”
Prosecutors additionally wrote: “Defense counsel Owen explained that he and his co-counsel had been trying to locate these records and had been trying various Amazon passwords provided to them by the defendant, but were thus far unsuccessful (as of Feb. 1.) Defendant’s grand jury testimony was that she already had access to the records and had already printed them out.”
Prosecutors claim they provided the defense with responses to their discovery demands in November, but the defense never reciprocated, as required by law, until March 14.
“This reciprocal discovery showed that the defendant allegedly purchased the vests off eBay. Defense counsel has subsequently informed the state that he had these records in his possession as early as December 2018, despite representing on numerous occasions that he was working hard to find these records throughout the intervening time period,” court records say.
Prosecutors further wrote that an investigation of the IP address from which the eBay account was created, and the purchases were made, as well as looking at the device on which those purchases allegedly were made, would “go a long way in either absolving defendant or demonstrating her guilt.”
The state charged the defense team with what it called “unjustifiable delay” in providing records and stated any delay in the overall case “can be attributed to no one but defendant.”
Both Junk and Canepa said the only time limit linked to refiling charges against Fredericka Wagner is the statute of limitations, or roughly six years from the time of the supposed incidents, presumably the 2018 grand jury testimony.
At least as of Wednesday, other previously announced trials and pretrials in the overall Rhoden murder cases were to continue as planned. Wagner IV and his mother-in-law, Rita Newcomb, should be before Deering for pretrials late next month.
Reach Tom Corrigan at (740) 370- 0715. © 2019 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved.