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After pandemic delays, Pike County massacre suspects return to court

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Posted at 6:05 PM, Jun 22, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-22 19:24:36-04

PIKE COUNTY — After court proceedings were delayed significantly because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Pike County resumed hearings for members of the Wagner family accused of killing eight members of the Rhoden family in 2016.

Two years ago, the Attorney General's office charged the Wagner family members, but its representative announced during court proceedings Monday that she plans to step down from the case.

"This case, as everyone knows, is very, very important to the people of Pike County, to the family members as well as the state of Ohio," Carol O'Brien, deputy attorney general, told the judge during court Monday. "It's important to have unified folks working together like Mr. Junk, prosecutor Junk, and Ms. Canepa have been doing."

O'Brien was chief counsel on the case, working with county prosecutors Robert Junk and Angela Canepa. She said a conflict now requires the attorney general's office to step away.

"I think we need Ms. O' Brien to clarify if that was a carefully crafted use of the word conflict and, if so, what do you mean?" said Greg Meyers, Jake Wagner's defense attorney.

O'Brien said there is no disagreement on the charges or evidence; she simply feels there are too many cooks in the kitchen for this case.

"The conflict is, comes in, when you’re talking about having the prosecutor’s office, the contractor for the prosecutor’s office and the Attorney General’s Office all trying to work on a case," said O'Brien.

She said the Rhoden family was consulted on the decision to pull the Attorney General's Office from the prosecution team and they agreed.

On Monday, Jake and his father, Billy Wagner, appeared in court for the first time in months, after the pandemic closed court proceedings.

Jake, Billy and two other family members were charged with aggravated murder and conspiracy in the shooting deaths of eight members of the Rhoden/Gilley family at their four Pike County homes in the overnight hours of April 21-22, 2016. The other suspects, Angela Wagner and George Wagner IV, have hearings later this week.

Each could face the death penalty if convicted. All pleaded not guilty and are being held without bail.

The victims were Christopher Rhoden, Dana Manley Rhoden and their three children – Hanna May Rhoden, Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden and Christopher Rhoden Jr.; Frankie’s fiancee, Hannah Gilley; Kenneth Rhoden, brother of Christopher Sr., and Gary Rhoden, a cousin.