The Pike County Court of Common Pleas was a bit busy this week as Judge Randy Deering presided over four pre-trials in the ongoing Rhoden murder cases.
While the last pretrial of the week was held early Friday morning for multiple murder suspect George Wagner IV, probably the most notable trial related happenings occurred earlier in the week.
Deering’s revocation on Monday of family matriarch Angela Wagner’s mail and phone privileges seemed to grab the most headlines. Deering acted on a motion filed by Pike County Prosecutor Rob Junk.
Junk argued, obviously successfully, Angela Wagner violated Deering’s earlier court order barring any of the suspects in the various cases from discussing those cases with each other. Prosecutors reported obtaining from jail officials taped conversations between Angela Wagner, who is being held without the possibility of bond, and her mother, Rita Newcomb, who has been free on house arrest.
In the course of those conversations, prosecutors allege the pair not only discussed the cases but mentioned the fact they were not supposed to be discussing the cases.
On that basis, in August, Junk asked the court to revoke bond for Newcomb, who faces charges of perjury and forgery and should be the first of the Rhoden suspects to face a jury. At the grandmother’s pretrial last month, Special Prosecutor Angela Canepa told Deering Newcomb and her daughter held extensive conversations taped by jail personnel. Canepa insisted the conversations between Newcomb and Wagner were substantial and definitely involved the ongoing trials.
According to Canepa, Wagner urged her mother to use certain “buzzwords” when talking about any custody papers, Newcomb allegedly forged. Canepa added 11 of 13 calls between Newcomb and her daughter in the months of June and July included discussions about the Rhoden cases. In the end, Deering said he took violations of the conditions of Newcomb’s house arrest seriously but did not revoke that house arrest.
One other major development earlier this week, occurred when Deering approved suspect Edward Wagner’s second waiving of his right to a speedy trial, extending the deadline for the start of his trial potentially until January 2021. Neither Junk nor Canepa made any objections to the move, which quite likely means Edward Wagner won’t face a jury for over a year.
The second pretrial of the week was held Tuesday afternoon for George Wagner III, Edward Wagner’s father, also charged with multiple counts of murder. Like Edward Wagner’s defense team, his father’s attorneys filed dozens of pretrial motions, a total of over 40.
During the pretrial for Edward Wagner, Deering chose not to hear arguments on over 30 defense motions as the bulk were submitted the same day. Instead, Deering set a motion hearing for Oct. 8. During the pretrial for Wagner III, Deering decided to move forward with a motion hearing as planned. However, he declined to rule on any of the defense motions, stating many of them are virtually identical to those filed by attorneys representing the three other murder suspects in the case.
Among the dozens of motions filed by Wagner III’s defense team, one in part requests the names of witnesses who took part in grand jury proceedings against the suspect. Attorney Mark Collins stated he was concerned about testimony potentially given by now indicted and suspended Pike County Sheriff Charles Reader as well as an apparently suspended agent of the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation, which participated in the Rhoden investigation.
Canepa quickly objected to the motion, but also informed Deering neither Reader nor the agent in question testified before any grand jury in the Rhoden cases.
Over the summer, Reader was indicted on eight felony and eight misdemeanor counts ranging from theft in office to tampering with evidence. As he was directly involved with the Rhoden investigations, since his indictment, there has been speculation Reader’s problems might somehow affect the murder cases. That is despite the fact Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost is on record stating that will not be the case.
Reader is expected back in court for another pretrial of his own Wednesday.
During the hour or so Deering spent reviewing George Wagner III’s many motions, the judge’s assertion those motions are similar to those filed by other defense attorneys in the various cases proved true. Likewise, on Friday, defense attorneys for George Wagner IV made many of the same filings. While Deering heard arguments on those motions, he again made no rulings.
Deering and the various attorneys involved all termed motions so far discussed in open court as non-substantive, or nonfactual. According to Deering, that means they are generalized motions, not specific to any individual case. Defense teams all are expected eventually to begin filing factual motions, probably as soon as attorneys are satisfied they have received all of the discovery to which they feel entitled. When that happens, the public may begin to get more of a picture regarding some of the evidence and facts of the cases against the Wagner family. Deering set deadlines for the filing of factual motions, though some of those deadlines don’t arrive until December.
Following the hearing for Wagner IV, the Daily Times asked Junk if and when he intends to refile charges against Fredericka Wagner, the second of two Wagner grandmothers first charged in connection with the overall Rhoden case. Junk ultimately chose not to answer, stating he would rather be safe than sorry and not risk violating the gag order Deering long ago put in place regarding comments to the media by anyone involved in the Rhoden cases. Junk admitted he was uncertain the gag order applies to the case of Fredericka Wagner as she currently is under no criminal indictment.
In June, prosecutors moved to dismiss all charges against Fredericka Wagner, which included obstructing justice and perjury. At the time the charges were dropped, in a memorandum filed with the court, prosecutors stated they only recently had received new information from the defense, information now under investigation by Ohio BCI&I. Prosecutors said they would need time for BCI&I to complete its work. Fredericka Wagner had been set to go to trial shortly, but Junk’s team decided they needed the state investigation to be complete prior to going to full trial.
Reach Tom Corrigan at (740) 370-0715. © 2019 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved.