Lawmakers offer $100K to help with prosecuting Ohio death penalty cases

Lawmakers offer $100K to help with prosecuting Ohio death penalty cases

a group of people standing next to a brick wall: Edward “Jake” Wagner, 26, of South Webster is escorted into the back of the Pike County Courthouse by police on Tuesday, November 27, 2018, in Waverly, Ohio. Jake Wagner is facing murder charges, along with his brother George Wagner IV and parents George “Billy” Wagner III and Angela Wagner, relating to the deaths of seven Rhoden family members and Hannah Gilley over a possible custody dispute. Jake Wagner is the father of Hannah Rhoden's older daughter and possibly her youngest child. The eight homicides took place in April of 2016 at four different homes, all around the same time, and it would spawn the largest homicide investigation in Ohio history. If convicted, all are facing the death penalty. © Provided by Gannett Co., Inc. Edward “Jake” Wagner, 26, of South Webster is escorted into the back of the Pike County Courthouse by police on Tuesday, November 27, 2018, in Waverly, Ohio. Jake Wagner is facing murder charges, along with his brother George Wagner IV and parents George “Billy” Wagner III and Angela Wagner, relating to the deaths of seven Rhoden family members and Hannah Gilley over a possible custody dispute. Jake Wagner is the father of Hannah Rhoden’s older daughter and possibly her youngest child. The eight homicides took place in April of 2016 at four different homes, all around the same time, and it would spawn the largest homicide investigation in Ohio history. If convicted, all are facing the death penalty.

COLUMBUS – Those prosecuting four complicated cases against a family accused of killing eight people in Pike County could soon get some financial help from state taxpayers: $100,000.

Ohio lawmakers added $100,000 for Pike County to prosecute the cases against Angela Wagner, her husband George “Billy” Wagner and their sons Edward “Jake” Wagner and George Wagner IV to an unrelated bill Thursday night. The proposed money heads to Gov. John Kasich for his signature.

The Wagners are accused of killing Christopher Rhoden Sr., 40; his older brother, Kenneth Rhoden, 44; Christopher’s former wife, Dana Manley Rhoden, 38; their three children, Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden, 20; Hanna Rhoden, 19, and Chris Rhoden, Jr., 16; and a cousin Gary Rhoden, 38, and Hannah Gilley, 20, in their homes on April 22, 2016. Most were asleep while the Wagners allegedly executed a meticulously planned attack to wipe out the family.

Prosecuting the Wagners could take years, and the bill could be steep: between $3 million and $5 million for the initial prosecution and appeals, estimated Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters, who has handled multiple death penalty cases over his career.

Without help from taxpayers, the cost could decimate Pike County’s budget. 

“If you are looking at a couple million bucks to prosecute this, it’s just devastating to a county of that size,” said Rep. Shane Wilkin, a former commissioner in nearby Highland County. 

Pike County Commissioner Tony Montgomery said a bill of $2 million to $6 million for prosecuting the cases would be impossible to pay. The county’s annual budget is about $10 million.

“Nobody ever said justice is cheap,” Montgomery said. “At this point, we will take any help we can get.”

That’s why Ohio lawmakers are offering $100,000 to start with the prosecution. They likely would offer more money in the future.  

Wilkin, R-Hillsboro, and Sen. Bob Peterson, R-Washington Court House, had proposed a bill to help counties pay for death penalty cases involving multiple suspects or multiple victims. Under the proposal, the Ohio attorney general and state public defender would ask a seven-member panel called the Ohio Controlling Board to pay for those cases. 

That bill did not pass, but it could be reintroduced next year. 

MORE: Pike County massacre: Lawmakers want state taxpayers to foot bill for costly death penalty cases

MORE: Mike DeWine announced arrests in Pike County murders

This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Pike County killings: Lawmakers offer $100K to help with prosecuting death penalty cases


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