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Criminal Justice Update

Pike County gets $100,000 in help for expensive trials of murder suspects


Attorney General Dave Yost has presented Pike County with a $100,000 check to help pay for a notorious capital murder case in which eight members of one family were killed in one night. 

George “Billy” Wagner III; his wife, Angela Wagner; and their adult sons George Wagner IV and Edward “Jake” Wagner are charged with killing eight members of the Rhoden family in 2016. That included the mother of Jake Wagner’s young daughter.

Estimates for how much the capital cases will cost are in the seven figures. For Pike County, which has one of the state’s highest poverty rates, that’s a big ask. 

The four Wagners will have separate trials, and because they have been ruled indigent, they’re each entitled to two specially qualified attorneys. Jake Wagner is represented by the Ohio Public Defender’s Office, and his brother and parents by attorneys appointed by the county court — meaning paid for by Pike County.

The county previously received $132,000 from the state and already has paid $600,000 toward what’s been called the largest homicide investigation in Ohio history.

It involved thousands of hours of work by state and local investigators, who fielded 1,080 tips, conducted 550 interviews, traveled to 10 states, tested over 700 items and served more than 200 search warrants, subpoenas and court orders.

In just George Wagner III’s case, prosecutors have shared 30 GB of material with his defense. That much storage could carry 20 feature-length movies or equate to books on a shelf that stretches as long as three football fields. 

The new $100,000 “down payment from the state” was approved by the legislature, and Attorney General Yost supports more help in this case and for other future complex cases. 

He backs a bill originally drafted by state Sen. Bob Peterson of Sabina and state Rep. Shane Wilkin of Hillsboro, details of which are still being worked out. So far, the plan would allow the Attorney General and Ohio Public Defender to jointly apply for extra funding for counties facing the rare capital case involving multiple defendants or multiple victims. The funds would come from the state Controlling Board. 

“Justice should not depend on how fat your wallet is,” Yost said.