October may be the month the public begins to see evidence and hear from witnesses in the ongoing trials related to the 2016 Rhoden family massacre.
At the latest pretrial in the now long-running court saga of the six members of the Wagner family arrested in connection with the eight murders, Pike County Court of Common Pleas Judge Randy Deering set Oct. 21 as the day for what he called a motion hearing on “substantive issues,” most presumably filed by the defense team of Angela Wagner.
Dressed in prison garb, Wagner was back in court Wednesday for the first time since March, facing, as do other members of her immediate family, a laundry list of charges, most notably including six counts of aggravated murder with death penalty specifications.
Deering stated the October hearing could involve evidentiary issues and even the calling of witnesses. That could represent the media and the public’s first real glimpse into what is apparently mounds and mounds of evidence compiled by the prosecution in the cases against the various members of the Wagner clan. Little of that evidence has been discussed during the various pretrials in the Rhoden case, and Deering long ago placed a gag order on anyone connected with the case, preventing them from speaking with the media.
Giving no specific reason for the delay, Deering late last month postponed the beginning of a jury trial for Rita Newcomb, Angela Wagner’s mother, who is charged with forgery, perjury and obstruction of justice. Newcomb’s case was set to go to trial July 8. The trial was reset for 8:30 a.m. Oct. 21. Further delays in that trial seem unlikely if Deering has his way. At last month’s pretrial for Newcomb, Deering warned attorneys to expect her trial to begin Oct. 21.
Deering set July 25 as the date for Newcomb’s next pretrial hearing. He made clear he would like the two sides to work out their differences over discovery and have it all in the hands of defense attorneys by July 15.
Discovery, and the huge amounts of it, also were a topic of discussion during Angela Wagner’s brief pretrial Wednesday. Deering said it was his understanding that four terabytes of information still need to be delivered by the prosecution to Wagner’s defense team. He ordered the defense to present prosecutors with the appropriate equipment for transferring all that information by July 15. Prosecutors then will be responsible for getting that information into the hands of defense attorneys by July 21.
One terabyte of information is enough to hold 500 hours of movies.
Assigned to the case by then-Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, Special Prosecutor Angela Canepa stated during Newcomb’s last pretrial that the last information dump to attorneys for suspect Jake Wagner, one of two of Angela Wagner’s sons charged directly with the murders, ended up requiring the aid of technical experts from both sides. She further noted the ongoing information dumps are in addition to discovery information turned over to defense teams months ago.
Before the imposition of Deering’s gag order, prosecutors for the state said a custody battle over the daughter of Jake Wagner and one of the victims, Hanna Rhoden, was the reason behind the massacre. Newcomb’s forgery charge stems from her allegedly creating false custody documents.
Reach Tom Corrigan at 740-370-0715.