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Lead prosecutor in Pike County massacre resigns from Ohio AG office but remains on case

Updated: Jun. 11, 2020 at 4:19 PM EDT
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WAVERLY, Ohio (FOX19) - The lead prosecutor in the Pike County massacre case resigned from the Ohio Attorney General’s Office and was off the case but now she is back on, court and state records show.

Angela Canepa quitting the AG’s office is the latest in a series of changes among authorities in 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.

Canepa was hired in 2013 and served as section chief of the Special Prosecutions section.

Canepa’s letter does not state why she is leaving, thank Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost or anyone else in the office.

We asked a spokesman for the office why she was leaving. He referred us to Canepa.

Our email to her at the AG’s office resulted in this email response back moments later: “Angela Canepa is no longer with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office. If you need immediate attention please contact Assistant Section Chief Chris Kinsler...."

Senior Assistant Attorney General Anthony Pierson of the office’s Special Prosecutions section was appointed to the case on September 30, 2019 and remains on it, according to spokesman Steven Irwin.

Court records show that on June 4, Pike County Prosecutor Rob Junk filed a motion with Pike County Common Pleas Court asking for Canepa as an attorney to be appointed special prosecutor at a rate of $65 per hour.

The judge approved it, and now Canepa will be paid out of a special fund to prosecute four family members charged in the April 2016 slayings of the Rhoden family.

State lawmakers approved funding to help pay for the trials, which likely will cost $1 million.

The victims are 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 shot in the head April 22, 2016, most several times, according to autopsy records.

Four members of the Wagner family, Billy and Angela Wagner and their two sons, Jake and George, were charged in the slayings.

If convicted, the Wagners could be sentenced to death. They are not likely to go to trial until next year. Authorities have said the motive of the slayings stemmed in part over a custody dispute over a young child Jake Wagner and Hanna Rhoden had together.

Pike County Sheriff Charles Reader was sheriff for just months when the killings occurred. Now, he is suspended from office after he was indicted on multiple charges including ones he misused public funds for personal gambling purposes. The charges are not related to the slayings, AG officials have said.

Suspended Pike Co. Sheriff Charles Reader indicted

In early 2019, Pike County Prosecutor Rob Junk fired the sheriff’s brother, Brian Reader, who was Junk’s lead investigator and sat with the prosecution team during at least a couple of Wagner court hearings.

Brian Reader was terminated over attendance records and sick time, according to Pike County Commissioner Blaine Beekman.

Pike County prosecutor hires veteran investigator to replace sheriff’s fired brother

Also last year, a supervisor for the Bureau of Criminal Investigation who oversaw the investigation, Michael Trout, was put on paid administrative leave and then left before he could be demoted for unprofessionalism and retaliation against subordinates, state records show.

Attorney General Dave Yost hired outside counsel to look into allegations Trout created a hostile work environment and had anti-African American and gender bias.

The claims about bias were not substantiated, records show.

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