WAVERLY — Fredericka Wagner plans to attend church Sunday, her first visit since she and her family were arrested in November and charged in connection with the Rhoden family homicides in Pike County.
Wagner — whose son, daughter-in-law and two grandsons are all charged with the 2016 murders and face the death penalty if convicted — has been out of jail on $100,000 bond since soon after her arrest on felony charges of perjury and obstructing justice in the case. She wears an electronic ankle monitor and had not been allowed to stray more than 350 feet from her farmhouse.
Until Thursday, when Pike County Common Pleas Court Judge Randy Deering agreed to her request to attend services from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. on Sundays at Lucasville Mission Church, where she says she has been a member and taught Sunday School for more than 50 years. He also agreed to let her to travel to a group home for people with disabilities that she runs nearby.
Angela Canepa, a special prosecutor with the Ohio attorney general’s office handling the cases, opposed the request. She said the church pastor had told her he has essentially shuttered the church because, since the Wagner family’s arrest, membership had dwindled from 40 or 50 people down to no one.
Deering reminded Wagner that court officers will be checking to make certain that services are, in fact, going on.
What Deering didn’t do Thursday, though, was dismiss the charges against Wagner, as her attorney — in dramatic fashion with an impassioned speech — had asked him to do.
Wagner is accused of lying to a grand jury about two bulletproof vests that investigators seized from her home during a raid while looking for evidence in the killings.
Shot to death in four homes in rural Pike County on April 22, 2016, were: Christopher Rhoden Sr.; Dana Manley Rhoden; their daughter, Hanna May Rhoden; their sons, Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden and Christopher Rhoden Jr.; Frankie’s fiancee, Hannah Gilley; Kenneth Rhoden, Chris Sr.’s brother; and Gary Rhoden, a cousin.
Hanna Rhoden and Jake Wagner (one of Fredericka Wagner's grandsons charged with eight counts of aggravated murder) had a daughter together. That girl was the only young child of the victims not in the Rhoden homes during the killings; two other children and an infant were found unharmed.
According to paperwork Wagner’s attorneys filed with the court, Canepa asked Wagner about those two vests during grand jury testimony in July.
“You ordered a bulletproof vest through Amazon?” Canepa asked, according to a transcript.
“Yes, I guess I did. I will give you the records," Wagner answered.
“You guess you did or you did it?" Canepa asked.
“I thought I did," Wagner said.
But Wagner's defense attorney James Owen produced receipts that showed Wagner used PayPal to pay $284.99 for one vest and $379.99 for another off eBay, not Amazon. He said she “guessed” at her testimony and had recalled incorrectly.
Those receipts were dated May 7, more than two weeks after the homicides. In addition, Owen said, the manufacture date on one of the vests was listed as April 29, also after the homicides.
All of that, he said, should be reason enough for prosecutors to “admit they made a mistake” and for the judge to dismiss the charges.
“I don’t think there’s a reasonable person in the history of the world who would look at this proof and conclude that Fredericka Wagner committed perjury,” he said.
Owen said Wagner bought the vests after the homicides to protect her family.
He recalled a news conference during which Pike County Sheriff Charlie Reader warned residents to be vigilant.
The sheriff said "Arm yourselves. We can’t protect you" Owen said, adding that Wagner “heeds the sheriff’s advice and buys bulletproof vests.”
Canepa was visibly angered by Owen’s allegations that investigators got it wrong.
“There is much more to this case than the few statements he has zeroed in on,” she said of Owen.
The judge said Wagner's trial will begin July 29.
All the Wagners charged with the homicides — father George Wagner III, his wife Angela, and his sons George IV and Jake — have pleaded not guilty.
Also Thursday, Rita Newcomb was back in court. She is Angela Wagner’s mother and is accused of forging custody documents for both of her grandsons and lying to the grand jury. The judge scheduled her trial to begin July 8.