Grandmothers accused of cover-up in Rhoden slayings plead not guilty

Judge sets bond and orders house arrest
Grandmothers accused of Rhoden deaths cover-up
Posted at 11:24 AM, Nov 15, 2018

WAVERLY, Ohio -- Some of the people accused in the Pike County massacre discussed potential revenge against Ohio's attorney general and the county sheriff, an assistant state attorney general said in court Thursday.

Assistant Ohio Attorney General Angela Canepa made the comment during arraignment hearings for Rita Jo Newcomb and Fredericka Carol Wagner, who pleaded not guilty to the charges they're facing in connection to the massacre.

The women were not directly involved in the slayings of eight members of the Rhoden family, but helped cover up the crime, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said earlier this week. Newcomb, 65, and Wagner, 76 are facing charges of obstructing justice and perjury. Newcomb is also charged with forgery. 

MORE: Family meticulously planned massacre, DeWine says

A judge set Wagner's bond at $100,000 and Newcomb's bond at $50,000, both with a 10 percent option. He placed both women under house arrest at their respective homes and said they can have no contact with members of the victims' family.

The state had requested a $200,000 bond for each of the women, saying they lied to an investigative grand jury. Prosecutors also said Wagner discussed her testimony afterward despite a judge not telling her to discuss it with anyone, and that investigators have a confidential source who claimed to have been at Wagner's home during a conversation in which some family members plotted revenge in the event that they were caught, and discussed how they could escape.

"We're not necessarily suggesting that she would become a hit man or anything of that nature, but the state does have concerns about her participation in those conversations and potential coordination of any of those sources," Canepa said.

Wagner's defense attorney, James Owens, described her as a Sunday school teacher who has never before been charged with a crime, or even issued a parking ticket. Newcomb's attorney, Franklin Gerlach, described her as a grandmother on a fixed income.

"She's not charged with any violent crime — any nature at all," Gerlach said. "These are all paper-type crimes and we fell that justice in this particular matter would be a reasonable bond would be set, and she be permitted to sign her own bond."

Wagner paid her bond by Thursday evening, according to court records.

Newcomb is the mother of Angela Wagner and Fredericka Wagner is the mother of George "Billy" Wagner III, and both are grandmothers of George Wagner IV and Edward "Jake" Wagner. Angela, Billy, George and Jake Wagner are accused of killing the Rhodens.

Christopher Rhoden Sr., 40; Dana Rhoden, 37; Hannah Gilley, 20; Christopher Rhoden Jr., 16; Clarence "Frankie" Rhoden, 20; Gary Rhoden, 37; Hanna Rhoden, 19; and Kenneth Rhoden, 44, were all killed in the April 2016 slayings.

DeWine said the Wagners spent months planning the killings and how to cover their tracks.

Jake Wagner and Hanna Rhoden had a child together. DeWine said custody of the child "plays a role in this case." 

Billy Wagner appeared in a Kentucky court Wednesday. He waived his right to an extradition hearing, and authorities said he will be returned to Ohio soon.

The other suspects are being held in various Ohio jails, but have not yet appeared in court. Jake Wagner's arraignment is scheduled for Friday.