Pike County murders: Former county prosecutor at center of debate

By Parker Perry - Journal-News, Hamilton, Ohio (TNS)

Whether a former Clark County prosecutor should be allowed to participate as a special prosecutor in the case surrounding eight family members killed in Pike County is at issue in several court filings.

Andy Wilson, who was the Clark County prosecutor between 2011 and 2019 before leaving to join Gov. Mike DeWine’s cabinet, was appointed special prosecutor earlier this year in the cases.

The Pike County murders caught the nation’s attention when eight people were killed in the middle of the night, a case that launched a multi-year investigation by Ohio authorities. Christopher Rhoden, 40, Kenneth Rhoden, 44, Gary Rhoden, Dana Lynn Rhoden, 37, Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden, 20, Hanna Mae Rhoden, 19, Christopher Rhoden Jr., 16, and Hannah Gilley were killed.

Four people, George “Billy” Wagner III; his wife, Angela Wagner; and their sons, George Wagner IV and Edward “Jake” Wagner, have been charged. They have all pleaded not guilty.

The defense for Jake Wagner is asking the court to remove Wilson from the case citing a conflict of interest and state law. They say that the governor’s office has major influence over the state’s public defense office — which employs the lawyers for Jake Wagner.

“The questions this court must ask are how willing would defense counsel be to upset opposing counsel who has power and influence over their and their director’s careers, as well as their agency’s next biennium budget?” the defense wrote in their motion. “And would a defendant trust counsel who may be subject to such pressures to please opposing counsel? The fact that these questions must be asked shows counsel for Edward “Jake” Wagner might be tempted to dampen the ardor of their defense to placate opposing counsel and Governor DeWine.”

However, prosecutors say there is no conflict.

“To the contrary, the core of defendant’s claim is based on speculation of what could happen if they zealously represent their client and pre-supposes that the governor could be retaliatory if they did nothing more than zealously represent their client,” prosecutors responded with their own court document. “This ignores the fact that it would be far more upsetting if they did not zealously represent their client, given that is what they are legally and ethically bound to do. Regardless, the defendant’s conjecture of ‘what ifs’ does not rise to the level of an actual conflict.”

A judge in the case is expected to rule on this motion and others at a later date.

By Parker Perry

Journal-News, Hamilton, Ohio (TNS)

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