For the second time this week, another member of the Wagner family directly charged with the murders of eight members of the Rhoden family in April 2016, faced Pike County Court of Common Pleas Judge Randy Deering.
Charged with 22 counts, most notably including eight counts of aggravated murder each carrying with it death penalty specifications, George Wagner IV was in Deering’s court briefly Wednesday afternoon.
As happened in previous pretrials in the Rhoden case, much of the action seem to take place behind closed doors, presumably as prosecutor’s and court-appointed defense attorneys discussed movement regarding discovery and closely related but so-called bill of particulars. Discovery and bills of particular are both attempts by defense attorneys to gain as much information from prosecutors as possible prior to going to trial.
Unlike his mother, Angela Wagner, who appeared in court Monday in jail garb, George Wagner was dressed in street clothes Wednesday afternoon, presumably with Deering’s permission. Wagner was still wearing handcuffs. Deering previously gave permission for George Wagner’s younger brother Jacob Wagner to also appear in court in street clothes. Angela Wagner’s attorneys have now made the same request of the judge.
George Wagner’s Portsmouth-based attorney Rick Nash had filed only one pretrial motion on behalf of his client as of early this week according to court records. Nash had requested funds to pay for expert opinions. Ohio law specifically demands courts fund experts “reasonably necessary” in the course of capital trials. In this instance, Deering approved allowing those requests to be made “ex parte,” that is not in the presence of prosecutors. Pike County Prosecutor Rob Junk did not object to that request.
As he did with Angela Wagner on Monday, Deering granted a prosecution request barring George Wagner from any contact with the other suspects in the case.
During George Wagner’s arraignment in late November, Nash became the only defense attorney to so far ask for bail for any of the suspects directly charged with the Rhoden murders. Deering quickly denied that request. On Wednesday, George Wagner was returned to jail following his pretrial hearing though he will be back in court in March.
The Rhoden case continues before Deering Thursday when George Wagner’s grandmothers Fredericka Wagner and Rita Newcomb will both be in court for their first pretrial hearings.
Though not directly charged within the murders, both Newcomb and Fredericka Wagner face multiple counts, including felony charges of obstructing justice and perjury. The latter charges stem from false testimony the pair allegedly presented in July to a Pike County grand jury investigating the Rhoden murders. Newcomb also faces forgery charges. The two grandmothers are the only suspects in the Rhoden case to have been released on bail, though each was placed on electronically monitored house arrest and barred from any contact with the family of the victims.
Following the appearance of the two grandmothers, the next Rhoden suspect to appear in court is scheduled to be family patriarch George “Billy” Washington Wagner III, who should be in front of Deering Jan. 17.
Again, honoring a gag order imposed by Deering on everyone connected with the case, neither the prosecution or defense teams had any comment following Wednesday’s brief hearing.