PIKE COUNTY, OH (FOX19) - The youngest Wagner son appeared in court for a pretrial hearing Thursday morning.
Edward “Jake” Wagner, 26, is one of four members of his family charged with murder in the brutal, execution-style slayings of members of the Rhoden family in April 2016.
READ MORE: Pike County Massacre
Wagner is a key part of the case, according to prosecutors. He fathered a daughter, Sophia, with Hanna Rhoden, 19, one of the victims fatally shot in her home in Pike County.
Then-Ohio Attorney General, now-Governor Mike DeWine said a custody dispute over Sophia, who is now 5 years old, is a factor in the massacre that wiped out eight members of the Rhoden family.
Wagner is the last of his four-member family to appear in court for a pre-trial hearing. The family’s previous court appearances were quick, mostly discussing motions for discovery and agreeing no contact be made between any of the defendants.
The youngest Wagner’s hearing went differently.
Thursday’s hearing got underway more than an hour late, as the hearings with all members of the Wagner family’s hearings did, but Jake Wagner’s began with complaints by his defense attorneys.
Attorneys Gregory Myers and William Moody began the pretrial hearing by lamenting that the Pike County Sheriff’s Office did not have the ‘stun-belt’ security measure in place to replace Wagner’s handcuffs.
The lack of the requested security measure went against the defense’s request for Wagner to appear in court in plain clothing and without visible restraints.
Because of this, Myers said Wagner waived his right to be present at the beginning of the hearing until an agreement about his appearance could be worked out.
The judge directed that any news-members present Thursday must try their best not to show Wagner’s handcuffs and ordered that if they do get the cuffs on video or picture, they be edited out.
Pike County Sheriff Charles Reader issued a statement saying: “We are aware of the Judge’s order and Chief Ryan Bentley, who oversees the Sheriff’s office’s corrections, is looking into several different options at this time to recommend to the Court.”
Previously, the decision to restrict contact between the co-defendants was not one that was argued with. That was not the case for Thursday’s hearing.
Myers argued that though he agrees it would probably be in Wagner’s best interest not to have contact with his immediate family members, he thinks he should possibly be able to ask how they’re doing.
“We understand and to a limited degree accept what the state is requesting. It serves Jake Wagner’s interests as well as the state’s that he not act directly or indirectly on the merits of the case with the co-defendants," Myers said. “Frankly, because it’s family, we would hope that the scope of that order wouldn’t permit Jake from if he talks to his uncle or his aunt to say ‘is my brother O.K.?’ just about ‘how are you doing?’ Maybe it’s better he not even do that.”
Special Prosecuting Attorney Angela Canepa agreed that she believes it would not be in either party’s best interest for Wagner to communicate with or about his family members. She argued it would be a ‘slippery slope’ to leave the communication in the hands of being self-policed.
Myers took exception to Canepa’s statements taking the words in a more broad understanding.
“Certainly we don’t understand the state’s request to be so broad as to ask this court to forbid Mr. Wagner from talking on the phone to unindicted family members about his own – ‘I’m doing fine,’ and ‘how’s the weather out there?’ and that kind of thing,” Myers said.
He also argued that this request by the prosecution could potentially hinder his ability to defend his clients because he is the attorney for all four Wagners.
Canepa argued that she never requested Myers' or Moody’s communication with their defendants be limited, just that there be no direct or indirect communication between them.
After the brief misunderstanding of sorts, the judge decided the next court date for the youngest Wagner be set for April 4 at 1:30 p.m.
Wagner waived his right to a speedy trial through July 31, 2019 during his first court appearance where he also pleaded not guilty in November.
In addition to the aggravated murder charges, Wagner’s charges include conspiring with his family to kill the Rhoden family since Jan. 1, 2016, according to his indictment.
He also is accused of buying various items including a net that attaches to a gun to collect spent shell casings, ammunition, and items to build a silencer and then helping to get rid of evidence such as the victims’ phones and surveillance system.
Jake Wagner is also charged with unlawful sexual conduct with a minor for having sexual contact with Hanna Rhoden when she was 15 and he was 20, his indictment shows.
Wagner, his father George “Billy” Wagner, 47, mother Angela, 48, and brother George IV, 27, all face charges of aggravated murder with the possibility of the death penalty.
The slayings are considered the state’s most complex homicide investigation to date, resulting in more than 1,000 tips, hundreds of people interviewed and dozens of search warrants, officials said Tuesday.
The victims are family patriarch Christopher Rhoden, 40; his older brother, Kenneth Rhoden, 44; his cousin, Gary Rhoden; his former wife, Dana Lynn Rhoden, 37, and their children: Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden, 20, Hanna Mae Rhoden, 19, Christopher Rhoden Jr., 16, and Frankie’s fiancé, Hannah Gilley.
All were all shot in the head -- most several times -- according to autopsy records released in September.
Both of Wagner’s grandmothers are also facing charges in the murders. Fredericka Wagner, Billy’s mother, and Rita Newcomb, Angela’s mother, face obstruction and perjury charges.
It was revealed in court Fredericka Wagner’s charges stem from statements she gave to a grand jury about the discovery of bullet-proof vests authorities say she purchased that were found in her son’s room in her home.
The Wagners remain behind bars, the grandmothers are out on bond.