Billy Wagner should be tried outside of Pike County, attorneys say
George “Billy” Wagner III, accused in the 2016 homicides of southern Ohio’s Rhoden family, should be tried outside of Pike County, his attorneys said Wednesday.
Following a brief hearing in the Pike County Common Pleas Court, Wagner III’s lawyers said the Pike County juror pool was soured by copious media attention to the fall 2022 trial of Wagner III’s son, George Wagner IV.
“Because of the wide breadth of the media coverage … we believe this county is saturated,” said Mark C. Collins, one of two Columbus attorneys representing the older Wagner. “There’s probably not even a chance to get a fair jury.”
Collins and fellow lawyer Thomas F. Hayes said Wagner III will not seek to settle the state of Ohio’s charges against him, including eight for aggravated murder.
“He said he definitely wants to go to trial,” Collins said. “He is focused and he is going to be an active participant and he will help in his own defense.”
The attorneys declined comment on Wagner IV’s fall trial, in which he earned the rest of his life in prison after a jury found him guilty on all of the charges he faced. But Collins noted that “Our trial will be different than that” without offering specifics.
Wagner III, 51, spent only five minutes in the Pike County courtroom. He arrived from the Butler County Jail around 12:30 p.m., wearing orange jail clothing and escorted by heavily armed guards. He entered the courtroom at 1:42, dressed in blue jeans and a blue button-down shirt, having earlier won a motion to wear civilian clothing in court.
Wagner III spoke just three words – “yeah," "yes" and "no” – responding to Judge Randy Deering’s questions on whether he was satisfied with his defense team or had questions.
Deering reviewed upcoming changes in the courtroom, including his own Feb. 8 retirement date, and recommended that further action in Wagner III’s case be handled by his replacement.
“It makes no particular sense to set dates in this case today,” Deering said.
Deering will be replaced by Pike County Prosecutor Rob Junk on Feb. 9. Because of Junk’s conflict of interest in the case – he prosecuted the younger Wagner – the chief justice of the Ohio Supreme Court will appoint a visiting judge to the case.
Collins and Hayes said they will put their request for a new venue in front of whoever is appointed, along with evidence of the wide media attention of the fall trial.
They said they have no say in who should hear the case or where.
This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Billy Wagner hearing in Pike County