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What the first court appearances revealed about the Pike County murders investigation

The four family members charged with murdering eight members of a nearby Pike County family discussed ways to exact revenge on Ohio’s attorney general if one of them was individually arrested, prosecutors said in court Thursday.

In addition to revenge against Ohio Gov.-elect Mike DeWine, the incumbent attorney general, the Wagner family reportedly discussed ways to exact revenge against Pike County Sheriff Charles Reader and an attorney general’s special agent, the prosecutors said, citing a confidential informant.

The alleged conversation happened at the sprawling hilltop farm of Fredericka Wagner, one of two grandmothers arrested Tuesday on allegations they helped cover up the 2016 Rhoden family massacre.

READ MORE: How big was the Pike County murders investigation?

Fredericka Wagner, 76, and Rita Newcomb, 65, pleaded not guilty to perjury and obstruction of justice charges. Newcomb also pleaded not guilty to forgery charges, which prosecutors said are related to custody documents “at the epicenter” of the murder investigation.

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On Tuesday, announcing the arrests, DeWine said the Wagners were “obsessed” with custody of a toddler, Sophia, who is the child of Edward “Jake” Wagner, 26, and Hanna Rhoden, who was shot the same night as seven of six family members and her brother’s girlfriend.

Fredericka Wagner and Newcomb are the paternal and maternal grandmothers of Jake Wagner, who is accused in the murders along with his brother, George Wagner IV, 27; his father, George “Billy” Wagner III, 47; and his mother, Angela Wagner, 48.

Fredericka Wagner’s attorney, James D. Owen, said he is not aware of any evidence showing his client was part of the alleged revenge conversations. He said she taught Sunday school for nearly a half-century and “has lived about as close to the cross as anyone can.”

Who are the Wagners, accused of planning and carrying out the murders of the Rhodens in Pike County?

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Prosecutors painted a different picture of Fredericka Wagner, one as a woman with access to “sizable amounts of money” who “lied under oath” to a grand jury.

“I’m not suggesting she would become a hit man or anything of that nature, but the state does have concerns about her participation in those conversations or potential coordinating any of those sorts of efforts,” said Special Prosecuting Attorney Angela Canepa in court.

The state sought a $200,000 bond for both grandmothers. Bond was set at $100,000 for Wagner and at $50,000 — with 10 percent allowed — for Newcomb. If either posts bond they will be under house arrest. Newcomb, who cares for her 86-year-old mother, would be on house arrest at her mother’s home.

Franklin Gerlach, attorney for Rita Newcomb, pleaded for the public to remember she is innocent until proven guilty.

“What we’re saying is please give her the constitutional right of presumption of innocence before jumping to the conclusions,” he said.

In court Thursday were relatives of both defendants, as well as surviving relatives of the Rhodens.

Mike DeWine announces in a press conference that four members of the Wagner family will face the death penalty for the eight murders of the Rhodens.

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