Ohio AG: State should cover most of $1M cost in prosecution of Rhoden family murder cases

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP/WSAZ/WLWT) -- UPDATE 2/7/19 @ 4:25
Ohio's attorney general says the state should cover the majority of the costs for prosecuting the four suspects in the slayings of eight people in an Ohio county.

Officials in Pike County estimate they'll spend well over $1 million on the upcoming cases involving the 2016 killings of eight members of the Rhoden family

State Attorney General Dave Yost said Thursday he doesn't want the costs to cripple the small county in southern Ohio.

He feels the state should pick up all of the costs, outside of salaries for those handling the case.

State lawmakers would need to approve that spending.

Ohio lawmakers at the end of last year already agreed to provide an initial $100,000 to help pay for the trials of four family members charged in the killings.



UPDATE 12/17/18 @ 4 p.m.
Attorneys for a woman charged in the slayings of eight Ohio family members have asked a judge to move the case to a different court because of extensive publicity.

The lawyers for defendant Angela Wagner also want the possibility of a death sentence dropped from the trial, calling capital punishment unconstitutional.

They also asked Pike County Judge Randy Deering to allow Wagner to wear civilian clothes and to appear without restraints during court hearings.

The Dayton Daily News reports that Wagner attorney Robert Krapenc says he would likely ask the judge not to rule until attempts begin to find a jury in Pike County.

Wagner, her husband and their two adult sons face multiple charges in the April 2016 slayings of eight members of the Rhoden family.



UPDATE 12/4/18 @ 3:45 p.m.
A man charged in the slayings of eight people from another family has pleaded not guilty in southern Ohio days after his wife and two adult sons did the same.

Forty-seven-year-old George "Billy" Wagner III acknowledged the 22 counts against him but said little else Tuesday in Pike County court.

The Wagners are charged in the 2016 shootings of seven adults and a teenager from the Rhoden family. An attorney who has represented the Wagners has said they'll be vindicated.

Billy Wagner was held without bond, as were 26-year-old Edward "Jake" Wagner, 27-year-old George Wagner IV and 48-year-old Angela Wagner.

Their lawyers and authorities involved are prohibited from publicly discussing their cases.

Authorities have suggested a possible motive was a custody dispute over Jake Wagner's daughter with victim Hanna Rhoden.



UPDATE 11/27/18 @ 11:55 a.m.
The first of four members of the Wagner family charged for killing the Rhoden family in Pike County, Ohio faced a judge Tuesday morning.

Edward "Jake" Wagner, 26, from South Webster faced a judge for his 23-count indictment for the murders in April 2016.

Wagner, his brother George, and their parents Billy and Angela each face a long list of charges including eight counts of aggravated murder, one for each Rhoden victim.

No bond was set in his hearing.

Wagner was also arraigned on charges of aggravated burglary and conspiracy. Prosecutors allege the Wagners carefully plotted the massacre and planned for months. Court documents say the Wagners allegedly bought ammunition, a magazine clip, brass catcher(s), and a bug detector in preparation for the crimes.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine says the suspects also watched the Rhodens and their routines. They knew the layouts of their homes and where they slept.

Wagner was also the ex-boyfriend of Hannah Rhoden -- one of the eight dead -- and the father of her 2-year-old child. The pair were in a custody dispute at the time of the killings.

Surviving Rhodens were in the courtroom during the arraignment and appeared emotional as the judge read out some of the disturbing allegations that lead to their loved ones' deaths.

Wagner's brother, George Wagner IV, is due in court Wednesday morning. Angela Wagner, their mother, will appear Thursday afternoon. George "Billy" Wagner, their father, will face a judge on his charges on Dec. 4.

UPDATE 11/21/18 @ 11:10 a.m.
The second of two women charged with misleading authorities investigating an Ohio family massacre has been released from jail.

Prosecutors have said the two women are accused of lying to a grand jury but haven't offered any specifics. They are the mothers of two suspects in the killings, and the grandmothers of the other two.

On Tuesday, 65-year-old Rita Newcomb was released from Pike County Jail after posting a $50,000 bond.

Last week 76-year-old Fredericka Wagner was released after posting a portion of her $100,000 bond.

Both have pleaded not guilty to felony charges of obstructing justice and perjury.

Four members of the Wagner family have been charged in the slayings of eight members of the Rhoden family in rural Ohio two years ago.



UPDATE 11/15/18
Just hours after a court appearance, a grandmother accused of covering up the Rhoden massacre has been set free on bond.

Jail employees tell WSAZ Fredericka Wagner was released from the Pike County Jail Thursday night on a $100,000 surety bond.

Rita Newcomb, the other grandmother accused in the crime, is still in the Pike County Jail on a $50,000 bond.

The pair appeared in court today. Both were arrested for interfering with the investigation and misleading authorities.

UPDATE 11/15/18 @ 2:43 p.m.
Two grandmothers accused of covering up the Rhoden massacre are appearing in court Thursday.

Rita Newcomb and Fredericka Wagner were both arrested for interfering with the investigation and misleading authorities.

Eight members of the same family, the Rhoden family, were found dead on April 22, 2016. Investigators say they were shot execution-style. Their bodies were found at four different crime scenes.

The victims were Christopher Rhoden Sr., 40, his ex-wife Dana Manley Rhoden, 37, and their three children, Hanna May Rhoden, 19, Christopher Rhoden Jr., 16, and Clarence "Frankie" Rhoden, 20. Frankies fiancée, Hannah "Hazel" Gilley, 20, was also killed, along with Christopher Rhoden's older brother Kenneth Rhoden, 44; and cousin Gary Rhoden, 38.

Newcomb's son, Wagner's daughter, and two grandsons are accused of carefully planning and carrying out the mass murder. Investigators say George "Billy" Wagner III, his wife Angela Wagner, and their sons George Wagner IV and Edward "Jake" Wagner were prime suspects for some time.

The first to appear in court Thursday was Fredericka Wagner. She is from Lucasville and is George "Billy" Wagner's mother.

Members of the Rhoden family were in the courtroom as Fredericka pleaded not guilty.


While discussing bond, prosecutors said it is their understanding that the Wagners had a plan to “seek revenge” if any one of them was arrested. The prosecution claims the targets of that revenge would have been Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and Pike County Sheriff Charles Reader.

The prosecution requested a $200,000 bond for Fredericka.

Then the defense argued that she has new prior record -- not even a speeding ticket. Her attorney also said Fredericka believes her entire family is innocent.

The judge set her bond at $100,000. She is not allowed to have contact with the Rhoden family. If she is released on bond, she will be on house arrest at her home in Lucasville.

Newcomb's arraignment was next. She is from South Webster and is Angela Wagner's mother.

Like Fredericka, Newcomb pleaded not guilty.

Prosecutors asked again for a $200,000 bond, saying the forgery charge was "at the epicenter" of the motive. Newcomb is accused of forging child custody documents between Hanna Rhoden, one of the victims, and Jake Wagner, one of the suspects and Newcomb's grandson.

Her lawyer told the judge Newcomb is a grandmother who depends on social security as well as a school teacher. The attorney also argued that she is not charged with violent offenses.

The judge set Newcomb's bond at $50,000. If she gets out on bond, she will be under house arrest at her mother's home.

Keep checking the WSAZ App and WSAZ.com for the latest information.

UPDATE 11/14/18 @ 6:31 p.m.
In the mystery that haunted the small Ohio community of Piketon for more than two years, police say the Rhoden massacre has been solved.

Four members of the Wagner family were arrested Tuesday for the April 2016 murders of eight members of the Rhoden family.

Patriarch of the Wagner family, George "Billy" Wagner III, was the first to appear before a judge. He waived his extradition Wednesday in Fayette District Court after being arrested in Lexington Tuesday.

"I guess head back to Ohio," Wagner III told the judge when asked what he would like to do.

Ohio's Deputy Attorney General Stephen Schumaker said they expect to transport Wagner III back to Ohio soon.

"We're just very pleased that we've passed this stage and Mr. Wagner will be returned to Ohio very soon," Schumaker said.

Wagner III will be transported to the Butler County Jail.

Rita Newcomb and Fredericka Wagner, both grandmothers arrested for interfering with the investigation and misleading authorities, will be the first to appear in Pike County Court. Both are being held in the Pickaway County Jail.

Court officials say both will be arraigned Thursday at 2 p.m. No date has been set for the other Wagner family members.

Angela Wagner is being held in the Delaware County Jail. Edward "Jake" Wagner is being held in the Franklin County Jail and George Wagner IV is being held in the Ross County Jail.

Attorney General and Gov.-Elect Mike DeWine would not go into details about the motive, other than to say that it involved a custody dispute.

Investigators say it involved 19-year-old Hanna Rhoden and her ex-boyfriend, Edward "Jake" Wagner, over their daughter Sophia.

"There certainly was obsession with custody, obsession with control of children," DeWine said in a press conference Tuesday.

The mother of the Wagner family, Angela, once told reporters that Hanna Rhoden was "like their daughter" and that whoever killed her and seven of her relatives were "monsters." She and Jake also previously denied any custody dispute and said there was a custody agreement "they simply wanted to formalize."

UPDATE 11/13/18 @ 4:46 p.m.
Investigators confidently said in a press conference Tuesday evening that they have the Rhoden family killers in custody. It's been more than two years since eight members of the family, including a teenager, were shot and killed "execution-style" in April of 2016. In addition to identifying the suspects, investigators are revealing new details about what they call a planned, cold-blooded crime.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine addressed the press along with Pike County Sheriff Charles Reader and Pike County Prosecutor Rob Junk.

"I can never erase them," Sheriff Reader said about the crime scenes that remain in his memory. "We have obsessively focused on solving this case. We have been patient when it was painful to be, running down every lead no matter how small. It all has brought us to this day. Today we have the answer."

The killings happened on April 22, 2016 -- a day that changed the small community forever.

Monday, a Pike County grand jury indicted four suspects with aggravated murder, with the death penalty specification.

DeWine said the suspects are responsible for a "heartless, ruthless, cold-blooded murder."

The suspects are all members of the Wagner family from South Webster:

• George "Billy" Wagner III, 47 (father), was arrested in Fayette County, Kentucky
• Angela Wagner, 48 (George's wife) was arrested at her home in Scioto County
• George Wagner IV, 27 (son) was arrested during a traffic stop in Ross County
• Edward "Jake" Wagner, 26 (son) was arrested along with his brother during the traffic stop in Ross County

DeWine said the Wagners were "prime suspects for some time."

Each suspect is charged with eight counts of aggravated murder -- one count for each victim. Investigators added the death penalty specification for all four suspects.

The victims were Christopher Rhoden Sr., 40, his ex-wife Dana Manley Rhoden, 37, and their three children, Hanna May Rhoden, 19, Christopher Rhoden Jr., 16, and Clarence "Frankie" Rhoden, 20. Frankies fiancée, Hannah "Hazel" Gilley, 20, was also killed, along with Christopher Rhoden's older brother Kenneth Rhoden, 44; and cousin Gary Rhoden, 38. Their bodies were found at four different crime scenes. Most were killed in their sleep.

A 3-year-old, 6-month-old, and 5-day-old were home at the time, but were spared.

"Each one of us pledged to never give up," said DeWine as he thanked the victims' family members for their patience.

"Because this is an open prosecution, we won't be able to say much about motive, but you'll see from the indictments that custody of that young child plays a role in this case." He did not elaborate any further, except to say that it's a bizarre story and involves "obsession" over custody.

Both DeWine and Reader emphasized that the alleged killers were "familiar with the territory" and spent months planning the slayings. "They studied the victims' habits and routines," DeWine said.

The attorney general said the suspects tampered with evidence, including the victims' phones, security cameras, a silencer, and shell casings.

According to the indictment, the suspects allegedly bought ammunition, a magazine clip, brass catcher(s), and a bug detector in preparation for the crimes. DeWine's office said, "They also allegedly obtained and shared information about the physical layouts of the victims' properties, their habits and routines, sleeping locations, and countersurveillance devices present on their properties, including pets."

"They did this quickly, coldly, calmly, and carefully," said Reader. "But not carefully enough."

The suspects are facing several other charges including conspiracy, engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, tampering with evidence, unlawful possession of a dangerous ordinance, forgery, unauthorized use of property, interception of wire, oral, or electronic communications, obstructing justice, and aggravated burglary.

Edward "Jake" Wagner is also charged with unlawful sexual conduct with a minor. Investigators say he had sexual contact with Hanna Rhoden when she was 15 years old and he was 20. According to DeWine's office, Jake is the father of Hanna's older daughter who was staying with the Wagners on the night of the murders.

The attorney general announced two additional suspects, accused of trying to cover the murders up: Rita Newcomb, 65, and Fredericka Wagner, 76 -- both grandmothers, DeWine said. Newcomb is from South Webster. She is Angela Wagner's mother. Fredericka is from Lucasville. She is George "Billy" Wagner's mother.

Both were arrested at their homes. They are charged with obstructing justice and perjury for alleged actions that intentionally misled authorities, DeWine said. You can read the indictment against Newcomb and Fredericka Wagner here.

This case was built over two and a half years. In July of 2018, a judge ordered a grand jury to look at all of the evidence.

Oct. 30 of 2018, investigators finally had their last piece of evidence, although DeWine would not specify what that evidence was. "I don't really want to go into that further." He did clarify that it was not a game-changing piece of evidence.

DeWine called it the most labor-intensive case his office has ever undertaken. He said they followed more than 1,100 tips, conducted more than 550 interviews, tested more than 700 pieces of evidence, traveled to ten different states, and put in tens of thousands of hours into the investigation.

"What solved this case was just hard, tough police work day after day after day," said DeWine.

Although charges were just announced, the Wagner family has been on investigators' radar for quite some time.

In June of 2017, the AP reported that an attorney for the Wagner family said his clients were being harassed by the attorney general's office, despite their cooperation. The Wagner family lived in Ohio at the time of the killings, but moved to Alaska in 2017. At the time, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine wouldn't say why investigators have a "special focus" on the Wagners.

A reporter asked DeWine about rumors that circulated over the last two years -- particularly, that drugs played a role. On Tuesday, DeWine did say there was an "undercurrent" of drug activity, but said he could not point to that as a motive.

Investigators said they have all of their suspects and they do not believe anyone outside of their custody was involved, but they still urge people to report tips about this case.

Prosecutor Junk said the suspects' court appearances have yet to be determined.

The size of the investigation is clear when looking at the list of agencies involved. Nearly two dozen agencies from 10 different states and Canada helped: Adams County Sheriff's Office, Buckeye State Sheriffs' Association, Butler County Sheriff's Office, Chillicothe Police Department, Clark County Prosecutor's Office, Columbus Division of Police, Delaware County Sheriff's Office, Franklin County Prosecutor's Office, Franklin County Sheriff's Office, Hamilton County Prosecutor's Office, Ohio Air National Guard, Ohio Crisis Response Team, Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, Ohio Department of Taxation, Ohio Organized Crime Investigations Commission, Ohio State Highway Patrol, Pickaway County Sheriff's Office, Piketon Police Department, Portsmouth Police Department, Ross County Sheriff's Office, Scioto County Prosecutor's Office, Scioto County Sheriff's Office, U.S. 23 Major Crimes Task Force, Warren County Prosecutor's Office, Warren County Sheriff's Office, Waverly Police Department, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Customs and Border Patrol, Drug Enforcement Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Homeland Security Investigations, U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Ohio, and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.

UPDATE 11/13/18 @ 3:32 p.m.
Four people have been arrested in connection with the massacre of a Pike County family, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said Tuesday.

Eight members of the Rhoden family -- seven adults and a teenage boy -- were shot "execution-style" at four homes near Piketon, about 90 miles north of Cincinnati in rural Ohio, on the night of April 21-22, 2016.

Now, more than 2 1/2 years after the slayings, four arrests have been made.

Four members of the Wagner family, of South Webster, were taken into custody Tuesday afternoon. They are charged with planning and carrying out the killings.

George "Billy" Wagner III, 47; Angela Wagner, 48; George Wagner IV, 27; and Edward "Jake" Wagner, 26 have been arrested.

The Wagners have been on the radar of federal authorities since the summer of 2017, but investigators had always stopped short of calling them suspects. They were longtime friends with the Rhodens who lived in nearby Peebles, Ohio, at the time of the killings but later moved to Alaska.

Edward "Jake" Wagner was also the ex-boyfriend of Hannah Rhoden -- one of the eight dead -- and the father of one of her 2-year-old child. The pair were in a custody dispute at the time of the killings.

Federal agents said they were able to able to track George Wagner III to Lexington, Kentucky, where he was arrested Tuesday afternoon. He was driving a vehicle pulling a horse trailer that was pulled over just off Georgetown Road.

It is unclear where the other three were captured.

Christopher Rhoden Sr., 40; Clarence "Frankie" Rhoden, 20; Dana Lynn Rhoden, 37; Gary Rhoden, 38; Hanna May Rhoden, 19; Hannah Gilley, 20; Kenneth Rhoden, 44; and Christopher Rhoden Jr., 16, were shot and killed in 2016.

It appeared some of the family members were killed as they slept, including Hanna Rhoden, who was in bed with her newborn baby nearby, authorities said. The baby was 4 or 5 days old, authorities said. That baby was not fathered by Edward Wagner.

Autopsies revealed that most of the Rhoden family victims were shot multiple times.

Christopher Rhoden Sr. was shot nine times. His ex-wife, Dana Rhoden, was shot five times in the head. Any one of the shots would likely have killed her.

A motive in the slayings is still unknown.

Authorities said that marijuana grow operations were found at three of the four crime scenes in Pike County.

The arrests are a culmination of a massive investigative effort on behalf of several local and federal agencies. Investigators scrambling to determine who targeted the Rhoden family and why had conducted over 130 interviews and processed over 100 pieces of evidence and 550 tips, while getting assistance from more than 20 law enforcement agencies.

ORIGINAL STORY 11/13/18
Four people are facing charges in connection with the Rhoden family murders. Eight members of the family were found shot to death execution-style in April of 2016 and it remained the largest unsolved homicide case in Ohio's history until this break more than two years later.

The suspects are all members of the Wagner family from South Webster:

• George "Billy" Wagner III, 47
• Angela Wagner, 48
• George Wagner IV, 27
• Edward "Jake" Wagner, 26

They are charged with planning and carrying out the murders.

Investigators with the Ohio Attorney General's office say there will be a news conference with more details Tuesday afternoon.

The killings happened on April 22, 2016 near Piketon.

The victims were Hannah Gilley, 20; Christopher Rhoden, Sr., 40; Christopher Rhoden, Jr., 16; Clarence "Frankie" Rhoden, 20; Dana Rhoden, 37; Gary Rhoden, 38; Hanna Rhoden, 19; and Kenneth Rhoden, 44.

There were four different crime scenes for investigators to process.

Although charges were just announced, the Wagner family has been on investigators' radar for quite some time.

In June of 2017, the AP reported that an attorney for the Wagner family said his clients were being harassed by the attorney general's office, despite their cooperation. The Wagner family lived in Ohio at the time of the killings, but moved to Alaska in 2017. At the time, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine wouldn't say why investigators have a "special focus" on the Wagners.

Keep checking the WSAZ App and WSAZ.com for the latest information.


Members of the Rhoden family who were murdered
Aerial of crime scene