Cost of prosecuting Rhoden case could reach millions

By Tom Corrigan -

“We hate to even put these numbers out there,” said Pike County Commissioner Blaine Beekman.

Beekman was referring to possible costs connected with prosecuting six suspects, significantly including four death penalty cases, in connection with the infamous Rhoden family murders in April 2016.

Beekman said the case is so unique, it is pretty much impossible to put a dollar sign on the cost of prosecution. But he added estimates have ranged from anywhere between $2 million to $4 million.

“We don’t have that kind of money,” Beekman said.

Fellow county commissioner Tony Montgomery opined the prosecution team seems very confident they have the right people on trial for the bloody crime spree which put Pike County on the national map for all the wrong reasons. He added he obviously hopes justice is done.

“But justice isn’t cheap,” Montgomery added.

Montgomery stated he had been talking with state Rep. Shane Wilkin, R-91, who just won election to his first full term in office. Montgomery said Wilkin promised to investigate some financial help for Pike County in dealing with the fallout from the murders.

Beekman said the county already has spent approximately $600,000 investigating the case. A significant percentage of that money went towards constructing a building to house the trailers in which the murders happened. The county was required to preserve the trailers as evidence in the case. Beekman added initially the county leased a building for that purpose, but the structure went into foreclosure. Officials were forced to construct their own building to house the trailers. Beekman quickly noted the state reimbursed Pike County $130,000 of that cost. He said he didn’t want to give the impression the state or the Ohio Attorney General’s office, which helped investigate the case and will help in its prosecution, had abandoned Pike County.

According to Beekman , it is unclear how long local officials might have to hold onto those trailers, possibly until the end of the various trials. Both Beekman and Montgomery said as four of the cases involve the death penalty, with appeals and so on, those cases easily could last years.

It is still unclear as to whether Pike County will need to provide defense attorneys for the four persons directly accused of the Rhoden murders. Beekman said it is somewhat ironic the suspects in the case are fairly wealthy but the county in which the crimes were committed is not flush. He did note there is probably no county in Ohio which could afford to prosecute four death penalty cases on its own.

In addition to the basic cost of attorneys, investigators and so on, Beekman said additional trial related costs can include such things as transporting suspects to hearings. He seems to expect defense attorneys will ask for a change in venue. The murders have attracted so much attention officials said Tuesday it may be difficult to find local jurors with no preconceived notions regarding the case.

As most probably know by now, the various suspects in the murders were arrested Tuesday. The suspects are George Washington “Billy” Wagner III, 47, and his wife, Angela Wagner, 48. Their sons Edward Wagner, 26, and George Wagner IV, 27, also were arrested. Those four each are charged most notably with eight counts of murder, one count for each victim. Each could face the death penalty.

Two others, grandmothers in the Wagner family, are charged with obstructing justice and perjury, allegedly in attempts to hide the crimes. Fredericka Wagner, 76, of Lucasville, and Rita Newcomb, 65, of South Webster, both were arraigned Thursday in Pike County Common Pleas Court before Judge Randy Deering.

Newcomb is Angela Wagner’s mother. Fredericka Wagner is the elder George Wagner’s mother.

In addition to the obstructing and perjury charges, Newcomb also faces charges for allegedly forging child custody documents regarding one Sophia Wagner. During the arraignment hearing, Pike County Prosecutor Rob Junk said the custody battle over young Sophia Wagner is “at the epicenter of this case.”

Despite prosecution calls for high bail for both women, Deering set bail for Fredericka Wagner at $100,000 and for Newcomb at $50,000. The Pike County jail reported Friday Fredericka Wagner made bail and had been released from custody Thursday. She is to be kept under house arrest as her trial moves forward. As of Friday afternoon, Newcomb remained behind bars in Pickaway County.

The arrest of George Washington Wagner III took place outside Lexington, Ky. As of Friday, Junk’s office reported to the best of their knowledge, while he had waived extradition, George Wagner was still in Kentucky awaiting transport to Ohio.

By Tom Corrigan