George 'Billy' Wagner III files motion for 'reasonable' bond in Pike County Massacre case

Posted at 4:10 PM, Jun 15, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-15 20:35:26-04

The attorney for the father of the Wagner family, accused of eight murders in the Pike County Massacre four years ago, is seeking “reasonable bond” on the claim that the case against him is “extremely weak.”

George "Billy" Wagner III's attorney, Mark Collins, filed a bond motion Monday pointing out that the state has delayed filing discovery in the case for 2 ½ years since Wagner’s indictment. The motion cited several other issues it says have raised questions about the state’s case, specifically:

  • The demotion, investigation, and resignation of former lead investigator Michael Trout;
  • The resignation last month of former lead prosecutor Angie Canepa from the Ohio Attorney General's Office. (Canepa returned to the case June 4 as special prosecutor to assist Prosecutor Robert Junk, according to a court filing);
  • A break-in at the trailer where evidence in the case is being held;
  • The state’s decision to drop charges against Fredericka Wagner, Billy’s mother;
  • The deal that allowed Rita Newcomb, Wagner's mother-in-law, to plead to a misdemeanor.

“Review of the incomplete discovery reveals no connection between Mr. Wagner and the Rhoden family deaths,” according to the motion. "The State provides no eyewitness testimony alleging seeing Mr. Wagner perpetrating the crimes as charged. There is no evidence linking Mr. Wagner to these alleged crimes. There is no physical evidence that links him to any of the crime scenes.”

Junk, the Pike County prosecutor, told WCPO 9 he had no comment on the motion except to say he would be filing a response.

In January 2019, Collins acknowledged that prosecutors had already shared 30GB of material with defense lawyers, WCPO 9 reported.

A week later, WCPO 9 reported that the 30GB included recordings of 13 interviews, hundreds of photos and a 3D scan from each scene, as well as diagrams showing ballistic, biological and other evidence; more than 100 aerial photos; autopsy reports and X-rays of all eight victims; photos of a child of one of the victims taken at the hospital the day of the killings; photos from a property searched by investigators, including a photo of a burnt VCR and items found in a well; cell tower records; a photo of George Wagner's tattoo; a gun list; a Walmart receipt and more.

Wagner and three 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 others are his wife, Angela Wagner, and their sons, George Wagner IV and Edward "Jake" Wagner.

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

Wagner's mother and mother-in-law were charged with helping to cover up the crimes.

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.

Wagner’s next pre-trial hearing is scheduled for June 22.

In another development, Judge Chris A. Martin set an OR bond for Reader on May 26.

Reader supervised the investigation of the Pike County killings along with then Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation. Reader faces 18 counts including corruption, tampering with evidence, tampering with records, conflict of interest and theft in office. Those charges are not connected with the massacre investigation.

Reader's next pre-trial hearing is scheduled for Sept. 24. His trial is now slated to start on Oct. 26.