Pike County massacre: Hearings this week in wrongful death lawsuit filed by victims’ families
WAVERLY, Ohio (WXIX) - Family matriarch Fredericka Wagner wants the court to dismiss her as one of the defendants in the wrongful death lawsuit filed by relatives of the victims of the Pike County massacre.
Her lawyer made the request in a court filing Friday ahead of several pretrial hearings and status conferences on the case that are scheduled to start at 10 a.m. Thursday.
She owns the massive Flying W farm and could be the only defendant the relatives could seek any damages from. The rest are mostly in jail or prison.
Thursday will be the first time the wrongful death case has come up for a public hearing since three members of the Wagner families either pleaded guilty to or were convicted in the April 21-22 2016 slayings.
The fourth and final member of the Wagner family still facing charges in the massacre is Fredericka Wagner’s son, George “Billy” Wagner.
He is expected to go on trial next year.
Billy Wagner, Billy’s wife Angela Wagner and the couple’s sons, George Wagner IV and Edward “Jake” Wagner, were all indicted by a Pike County grand jury and arrested in November 2018 on 22 counts including eight counts of aggravated murder in the 2016 massacre.
Fredericka Wagner, then 76, and Angela Wagner’s mother, Rita Newcomb, then 65, also were arrested.
Both were accused of helping to cover up the execution-style slayings of eight members of the Rhoden and Gilley families.
The grandmothers were arrested on one count each of perjury and obstruction of justice.
Rita Newcomb, 70, wound up pleading guilty to a reduced misdemeanor charge of obstructing official business in 2019.
All charges were dropped against Frederick Wagner.
And now, “based on evidence on the record, Fredericka Wagner had nothing to do with the planning, commission or cover-up of the Rhoden homicides,” her lawyer wrote in a pretrial statement week.
“For that reason, summary judgment should be granted to her on all of the plaintiffs’ claims,” the court document reads.
The wrongful death lawsuit was filed in November 2020 by relatives and/or administrators of the victims’ estates including Tony Rhoden.
The other defendants named in the lawsuit are Billy Wagner, Angela Wagner, George Wagner and Jake Wagner, Newcomb and two people who are not named.
The victims of the massacre were Christopher Rhoden Sr., 40; his older brother, Kenneth Rhoden, 44; his cousin, Gary Rhoden, 38; Chris Rhoden Sr.’s former wife, Dana Lynn Rhoden, 37, and their children: Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden, 20, Hanna May Rhoden, 19, Christopher Rhoden Jr., 16, and Frankie’s fiancé, Hannah “Hazel” Gilley, 20.
Their bodies were found in four separate trailers at two locations near Piketon on the morning of April 22, 2016.
Prosecutors said the motive in the murders was the custody of the young daughter of Jake Wagner and Hanna May Rhoden, his ex-girlfriend and one of the victims he confessed to shooting in the head.
The eldest Wagner son, George Wagner IV, is currently serving eight consecutive sentences of life in prison, without the possibility of parole.
He also was sentenced to 121 years in prison for other charges.
A Pike County jury found him guilty on Nov. 30, 2022, on all 22 charges, including eight counts of aggravated murder.
The jury deliberated less than a day following a three-month-long trial.
Gov. Mike DeWine has called the trial “one of the longest, if not the longest, trials in Ohio history.”
Estimates from state and local officials last week placed the costs at about $4 million, all funded by the state of Ohio.
The death penalty was taken off the table for George Wagner after his brother and mother testified against him for the state.
Jake Wagner and Angela Wagner, both pleaded guilty, months apart in 2021, to their roles in the killings. Jake Wagner confessed to killing most of the victims.
Billy Wagner now faces trial on the same 22 charges George Wagner was just convicted on, including eight counts of aggravated murder.
Billy Wagner’s lawyer has requested a change in venue.
The judge is supposed to rule on that request this month.
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