The suspended Sheriff of Pike County is expected to testify in Rita Newcomb’s trial next week, according to a recent filing. However, the state is having none of it.
Special Prosecutor Angela Canepa from the Ohio Attorney General’s office filed a motion on Thursday with the Pike County Common Pleas Court requesting a continuance to the trial of Newcomb, who is the grandmother to Jake Wagner. Newcomb is accused of forging custody papers that were used in a custody dispute between Wagner and murdered mother Hanna Rhoden; Newcomb’s trial is set to start Monday.
In the motion filed, the prosecution says that Newcomb’s defense team waited until three business days before trial to provide them with documents that the defense plans to use at trial. The state says that the papers exceed 175 pages and that they need more than just a few days to sift through and review them.
Also in the motion, the state says that Newcomb’s lawyers dropped a bombshell: they plan to call suspended Pike County Sheriff Charles S. Reader to the stand, along with his brother former Pike County Prosecutor’s Investigator Brian Reader, and the county’s elected auditor, Kayla Slusher.
Reader, who is on a paid suspension pending the outcome of his own criminal cases, has been said to not have had any involvement in the highly-publicized Rhoden homicide investigation, at least that is according to the state. Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost has said in the past that he did not believe Reader would have an impact on the prosecutions of the Wagner family, including Newcomb, and that the Sheriff did not play a significant role in the investigation. However, the bombshell on Thursday from the Newcomb defense team suggests otherwise.
The state fully objects to Sheriff Reader being called as a witness.
“The state cannot fathom, and the defense has not articulated, what relevant and admissible testimony these witnesses would have to offer in this case,” Canepa wrote in her motion. “It is the state’s belief that the defense only seeks to call these witnesses in order to impeach them or to force them to assert their Fifth Amendment rights and refuse to testify.”
Judge Randy Deering denied the state’s motion and the trial is set to get underway Monday morning.
George “Billy” Wagner III (47), his wife Angela Wagner (48) and their sons Jake Wagner (26) and George Wagner IV (27) were arrested in November and charged with planning and carrying out the eight murders at three homes in Pike County, authorities said. Each is facing eight charges of aggravated murder with death penalty specifications and other crimes.
Jake Wagner had a child with one of the victims, 19-year-old Hanna Rhoden, and their custody fight “played a role” in the murders, then-Attorney General Mike DeWine said.
Editor’s note: The Guardian’s interim editor-in-chief, Derek Myers, was the Pike County Sheriff’s spokesperson until July 2019.