While he made no rulings, as expected, Pike County Court Of Common Pleas Judge Randy Deering listened Tuesday to arguments from both sides regarding roughly 40 motions filed by defense attorneys for Edward “Jake” Wagner, the youngest of five suspects indicted in relation to the deaths of eight members of the Rhoden and Gilley families in 2016.
Including Edward Wagner, four of the suspects are charged with multiple counts of aggravated murder and face the death penalty.
The motions heard Tuesday are what Deering and attorneys have referred to as non-substantial or non-evidentiary motions. That is, the motions deal with boilerplate questions connected to the various trials and do not deal with any specific evidence in any of the cases. Deering previously noted defense attorneys for the four murder suspects all are filing many of the same motions and he intends to issue rulings on those motions for all four cases simultaneously.
As one example of the motions argued Tuesday, defense attorney Gregory Meyers asked the court not to allow the prosecution to mention his client’s alleged previous behavior during his murder trial.
“There is some evidence Mr. Wagner was violent with one of the victims prior to the murders,” said state Special Prosecutor Angela Canepa, seemingly indicating the prosecution wants to present that alleged incident as part of the case against Wagner.
Another defense motion, one which has been filed by other defendants in the murder cases, asked the court to bar prosecutors from using grisly or explicit photos from the murder scenes.
“Death is not pretty,” Canepa said, arguing using possibly upsetting or explicit photos is likely to, unfortunately, prove necessary to the prosecution’s cases.
Numerous other motions dealt with issues related to jury selection, potential jury instructions and the handling of evidence. Pike County Prosecutor Rob Junk responded to several of the motions in the same way he has at other pre-trials/motion hearings for the different suspects in the Rhoden case. He repeatedly told Deering he and other prosecutors will follow the rules and the law; court orders telling them to do so are unnecessary.
Deering has not stated publicly when he will rule on the various non-substantive motions. Another pretrial for Edward Wagner was set for 10 a.m. Dec. 11. As previously reported, at his last pre-trial in mid-September, Wagner again waived his right to a speedy trial. The full-fledged murder trial for Edward Wagner legally does not need begin until 2021 and likely will not start until that time.
As previously reported, the case against Edward Wagner may prove key to the prosecution in all of the Rhoden murders. Prior to the imposition of a gag order imposed by Deering, then state Attorney General Mike DeWine told the media at a press conference announcing the arrests of six members of the Wagner family, a custody battle over the child of Edward Wagner and murder victim Hanna Rhoden, who was 19 at the time of her death, may be at the heart of the motive for the murders.
Some further details of the alleged custody battle over Edward Wagner’s daughter may come to light sometime in the next month or so when Rita Newcomb, grandmother to Edward Wagner, becomes the first suspect charged in relation to the 2016 murders to face a jury.
Her trial was scheduled to get underway Oct. 21, but during her final pretrial hearing Monday, Deering agreed to a postponement to ensure the availability of one of the investigators. The trial will be delayed up to 30 days. Deering said he will announce a new date to be agreed upon by attorneys for both sides.
While not charged directly in the murders, Newcomb is facing among other counts, a charge of forgery apparently in connection with her alleged creation of fictitious custody papers regarding the child of Edward Wagner and Hanna Rhoden.
Reach Tom Corrigan at (740) 370-0715. © 2019 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved.