Pike County murders: Court dates set for Wagners accused in killings

The family accused of killing eight of their friends in Pike County will face their first court appearances beginning next week.

Arraignment hearings for the four Wagner family members will be held at the Pike County Common Pleas Court in Waverly, where each faces eight counts of murder with death penalty specifications, and other felony charges.

Edward "Jake" Wagner, who fathered a child with one of the massacre victims, will face Judge Randy Deering Tuesday morning, followed Wednesday by his brother George Wagner IV, and mother Angela Wagner Thursday.

George “Billy” Wagner III, who is Jake Wagner’s father, will appear in court Dec. 4.

INVESTIGATION: Pike County deaths and multiple arrests tied to one key factor — child custody

The Wagners were arrested last week on aggravated murder charges for the 2016 slayings of eight members of the Rhoden and Gilley families in Pike County.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, the governor-elect, has said a dispute over custody played a role in the homicides.

Two other individuals, Jake Wagner’s two grandmothers, have been released from jail on electronic monitoring house arrest. Each has pleaded not guilty to accusations they misled investigators and lied to a grand jury.

The county prosecutor, Rob Junk, has stated an intention to try the cases in Waverly. But Cincinnati's WCPO-TV reported Wednesday that Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters has openly expressed skepticism over whether those involved in the case will be able to assemble several hundreds of people for four separate death penalty juries.

Pike County has only 28,000 residents. Deters said “there’s no way” that few people could produce a proper jury pool.

Each of the Wagners has separate defense counsel, and the Cincinnati station reported attorneys for two of the four said they may ask for a change of venue, but wish to begin the judicial process in Pike County.

In other news surrounding the case, DeWine has appointed Ohio Auditor Dave Yost, the attorney general-elect, as a special attorney general during the transition. WCPO-TV reports Yost believes there are adequate jury pools in Pike County.

Additionally, Yost told the station he has received a “high-level briefing” on the case and will meet with the trial team to “go through the file with them.”

“The career prosecutors who are working on this case have been on it since the beginning,” Yost said. “They know the case backward and forward.”

Read more coverage: 

» Pike County deaths and multiple arrests tied to one key factor — child custody 

» AG-elect Yost proposes plan to help Pike County cover trial costs 

» Focus on Wagner family turns into arrests for Pike County murders 

» How big was the Pike County murders investigation? 

» Death penalty possible for 4 of 6 arrested in Rhoden slayings