Pike County murders: Grandmother wants obstruction, perjury charges dismissed

Attorneys for the family matriarch charged with obstruction and perjury in connection to the 2016 Pike County murders investigation have asked a judge to dismiss the charges, arguing the septuagenarian grandmother’s only mistake was conflating the identities of two online retailers before a grand jury.

Fredericka Wagner, 76, was indicted Nov. 13, the same day as her son, daughter-in-law and two grandsons were charged with, among other things, murdering eight members of the Rhoden and Gilley families in 2016. All have plead not guilty.

Wagner’s attorney, James Owen, wrote in Friday’s dismissal motion that prosecutors told him “that there was one alleged false statement common to both counts, which was testimony by Fredericka given to the investigating grand jury that she purchased two bulletproof vests found during a search of her residence after the Rhoden homicides and online from Amazon.”

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According to the filing, Owen said the special prosecuting attorney believed the two bulletproof vests were used in the Rhoden homicides. But Owen argues that the date of manufacture on the bulletproof vests proves Wagner truthfully testified to purchasing the vests after the murders.

Owen further argues that while Wagner actually bought the vests off eBay, her mistake in telling the grand jury she thought she bought the vests on Amazon “simply does not matter for the purposes of the obstructing justice statute, let alone could it be material for purposes of the perjury statute.”

"Fredericka was remarkably accurate in her testimony about her purchase of the two bulletproof vests, particularly since it was given more than 26½ months after the purchase," Owen wrote. "The state may point out Fredericka testified she guessed and thought she bought the items online from Amazon, when in fact she bought them from eBay and paid for them online through PayPal.

"This is a distinction without difference," Owen wrote. "If a person testified today that he bought his wife a red coat for Christmas in 2017, some 26½ months ago, and guessed and thought he paid for it with his Visa, but it turned out he paid for it with his Mastercard, how could that matter?"

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A spokeswoman for Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost's office, which is assisting the Pike County prosecutor, was not immediately available Sunday afternoon. The Cleveland Plain Dealer first reported the motion for dismissal in a Sunday profile of Wagner.

Owen said Wagner bought the vests for family members following the county sheriff’s suggestion in the wake of the massacre that area residents should arm themselves. Wagner is the great grandmother of Sophia Wagner, the toddler whose mother, Hanna Rhoden, died in the April 22, 2016 slaughter and whose father, Edward “Jake” Wagner, is one of the four accused of committing it.

Prosecutors have indicated their belief that a battle over the girl’s custody preceded the killings. In addition to Hanna, the victims were her father Chris Rhoden Sr.; mother Dana Manley Rhoden; brothers Chris Rhoden Jr. and Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden; her uncle Kenneth Rhoden; cousin Gary Rhoden; and Frankie’s girlfriend Hannah “Hazel” Gilley.

Also charged with eight counts of murder are Jake Wagner’s brother George Wagner IV, their father George “Billy” Wagner III and mother Angela Wagner.

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