As recently as Thursday afternoon, the office of the clerk of the Pike County Court Of Common Pleas was reporting no new date had been set for the jury trial of Rita Jo Newcomb, one of two grandmothers in the Pike County Wagner family charged indirectly with the involvement in the 2016 murders of eight members of the Rhoden and Gilley clans.
On Saturday, a check of the Common Pleas website revealed Newcomb now will face a jury beginning 8:30 a.m., Nov. 18. As of Sunday, it was not clear why or how the new date was agreed upon between the court and attorneys for all sides.
Unless something drastically changes in regard to the timetables set for the other suspects in the Rhoden case, Newcomb will be the first member of her family allegedly connected with the 2016 massacre to go to trial. Originally, Court of Common Pleas Judge Randy Deering set Newcomb’s jury trial for way back on July 8. Obviously, that trial never happened and ultimately Deering rescheduled it for Oct. 21.
Deering never gave any specific reason for the delay in the July trial. But from his comments at the time, it seems safe to assume the massive amounts of discovery exchanging hands between prosecution and defense attorneys slowed the process.
As the date for the Oct. 21 date for the trial approached, prosecutors requested another delay due to the fact an investigator whose testimony they obviously feel is necessary to their case would not have been available on that date.
As has been previously reported, Newcomb’s trial may hold the key to the entire mystery of the Rhoden murders. Prior to Deering imposing a gag order preventing anyone connected with the case from speaking to the media, prosecutors, including then Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, indicated custody of the daughter of murder suspect Edward Wagner and murder victim Hanna Rhoden is possibly the motive for the murders. Edward Wagner is Newsome’s grandson.
One other circumstance could make the trial particularly significant. Newcomb’s time in front of a jury could be the first chance for public and the media to gain a real glimpse of the case prosecutors have compiled against any members of the Wagner clan.
As noted, Deering long ago put a gag order in place legally preventing anyone connected with the trials from speaking with the media. Pre-trials held to date revealed very little in in the way of specifics regarding the various cases.
Newcomb faces charges of forgery, obstructing justice and perjury, the last related to testimony she gave to a Pike County grand jury in relation to the Rhoden murders. Prior to the July trial date, Newcomb attorney Franklin Gerlach submitted a motion to have all charges against his client dismissed, arguing there were various irregularities evident during the grand jury hearings.
His dismissal motion further asserted Pike county is not the proper venue for the forgery charge. Prosecutors allege Newcomb faked custody documents related to the daughter of Edward Wagner and Hanna Rhoden. Gerlach argued Newcomb lived in Scioto County at the time the alleged forgeries were created.
According to the motion Gerlach filed, “the custody documents in question in the indictment do not indicate where the alleged forgery took place. At all times relevant, defendant was a resident in Scioto County and did not have transportation to Pike County.”
Gerlach goes on to claim an attorney for the prosecution told defense counsel the documents were taken to Newcomb’s home in Scioto County “where they were allegedly notarized by the defendant.”
After hearing contested testimony from Newcomb and a sheriff’s office administrative secretary – who acted as a court reporter during Newcomb’s appearance in front of the grand jury in question – Deering rejected Gerlach’s dismissal motion.
Regarding the grand jury proceedings, Deering stated he remained unconvinced any irregularities existed whatsoever, let alone problems serious enough to result in the dismissal of charges. Deering also ruled against Gerlach’s request to dismiss or move Newcomb’s forgery trial out of Pike County because of the defense’s jurisdictional questions.
Reach Tom Corrigan at (740) 370-0715. © 2019 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved.