A high proportion of witnesses are opting out of being recorded in the long-awaited (and televised) Ohio trial of George Wagner IV over the Pike County massacre. That includes members of local law enforcement, including Sheriff Tracy Evans. Court watchers found the law enforcement requests unusual given the public duties bestowed upon them by their offices.
Law&Crime Network reporter and host Angenette Levy said two law enforcement sources found the requests for privacy from the Pike County constabulary to be strange — especially considering that the officers who were testifying are not undercover officers:
I have had two cops who’ve done lots of trials tell me they cannot believe law enforcement is opting out when these cops are not undercover 👇 https://t.co/VsqwJyghz8
— Angenette Levy (@Angenette5) September 14, 2022
Law&Crime host Linda Kenney Baden, who is a veteran criminal defense lawyer not linked to the case, called out Sheriff Evans for his decision to avoid cameras.
“Here, you’re elected, you give press conferences, you want transparency in that courtroom,” she said on Wednesday. “People are interested in the community. People are interested around the United States and around the world in this case, and you opt out. I would suggest you’re doing a dereliction to your own duties here, but that’s my own opinion, not an opinion of the Law&Crime Network. Tracy Evans, come on the air, talk to us about why you made that decision after you testify and maybe we can have a discussion.”
Ultimately, Evans — who won office in 2020 after the murders and the arrests — testified about logistics.
Just read through the notes from Sheriff Evans’ testimony. His testimony was just about logistics, who did what, who was there, etc… NO IDEA why he wouldn’t go on camera with that. #PikeCountyMassacre #GeorgeWagnerIV (photo cred: TracyD. Evans, Pike County Sheriff Facebook) pic.twitter.com/muZtU4xFHn
— Cathy Russon (@cathyrusson) September 14, 2022
Evans on Wednesday declined to comment on why he chose to opt out of being recorded.
Mike Schell of @Fox19_Mike approached Sheriff Evans in the hallway and asked ““Sheriff, any comment on why you are opting out of having your testimony recorded?”
His answer, specifically,
“I have no comment on that.” @LawCrimeNetwork
— Angenette Levy (@Angenette5) September 14, 2022
Pike County, Ohio, is a rural area with a population of about 27,089 people as of a 2021 U.S. Census estimate. The horrifying murders of the Rhoden family and one member of the Gilley family rocked the community. Eight people were shot to death, often multiple times in the head, across three trailers and a camper:
- family patriarch Christopher Rhoden Sr., 40,
- his ex-wife Dana Manley Rhoden, 38,
- their children Christopher Rhoden Jr., 16, Hanna Rhoden, 19, and Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden, 20,
- Christopher Sr.’s cousin Gary Rhoden, 38,
- Sr.’s brother Kenneth Rhoden, 44,
- and Frankie’s fiancée Hannah “Hazel” Gilley, 20
After more two years of investigating, authorities charged Wagner IV, his brother Edward “Jake” Wagner, his father George Wagner III, and mother Angela Wagner. Jake and Angela ultimately pleaded guilty to their respective roles, with authorities saying the male Wagners went the scene of the crimes to carry out the shootings with a .22 caliber gun and a .40 caliber gun. Wagner IV’s defense asserts the younger George was different from his relatives and had nothing to do with the murders. Whereas George III was engaged in drugs and Jake and Angela were so-called “con artists,” defendant Wagner IV claims he disapproved of the way the family functioned — at least according to his defense.
Under state law, witnesses like Evans had the option to opt out of appearing on camera. Jake and Angela, who may testify, also have the option of objecting to both audio and video coverage of their testimony.
“Each witness has the right to object to being filmed, videotaped, recorded or photographed,” Judge Randy Deering said in a July 1 ruling. “Any witness who so requests shall not be recorded (either audio or video), televised or photographed. During the testimony of the objecting witness, all media personnel are prohibited from employing any means to record the witness in or out of the Courtroom.”
Broadcasters, including the Law&Crime Network, filed paperwork in court on Sept. 2 which asked for explicit permission to record Jake and Angela Wagner and requested an order permitting audio coverage of witnesses who opt out of appearing on video.
“The fundamental duty of the court is to provide Mr. Wagner with a fair trial while also ensuring public access,” wrote Wagner IV attorney John P. Parker in a response to the broadcasters’ requests. “The court has done so already. Mr. Wagner objects to any further cameras or microphones. Further, Superintendence R 12 [which are rules covering broadcasting and photographing court proceedings] gives the court broad discretion and mandates certain items, i.e. informing witnesses of their right to not be recorded by video or audio. The media is free to sit in the courtroom as any other spectator.”
The relevant section of the rule in question reads as follows: “The judge shall inform victims and witnesses of their right to object to being filmed, videotaped, recorded, or photographed.”
Deering sided with the defense on the matter, presumably because the word “recorded” carries a broader meaning that the words “filmed” and “videotaped” and appears alongside those words to add additional caveats.
We’ve done everything in our power to bring you the fullest coverage possible of OH v. #GeorgeWagnerIV. Our motion today to ensure that was denied due to Sup.R. Rule 12 which allows witnesses to object to being recorded. We asked that we at least (cont) 1/3 @LawCrimeNetwork pic.twitter.com/w2Qhln3aRM
— Angenette Levy (@Angenette5) September 9, 2022
Other Pike County sheriff’s office staffers like Adam Ball, Jonathan Chandler, Corporal Beau Romine, and former deputy Morgan Music also opted out of being recorded.
Chandler testified about being called to Union Hill Road on April 22, 2016. He among those who found the bodies.
the 2 children were Frankie Rhoden and Hannah “Hazel” Gilley’s children. Brentley and Ruger. Ruger was covered in blood which concerned Chandler. He went into 4199 UHR and found Frankie and Hannah and knew they were dead. @LawCrimeNetwork
— Angenette Levy (@Angenette5) September 13, 2022
He worked until 2 a.m. and helped load some of the bodies into a portable morgue.
EMT Daryl Hart testified to taking Hanna May Rhoden’s days-old child out of bed, where she’d been lying next to her dead mother.
Some family members — like Dana’s sister Bobby Jo Manley, who found Christopher Sr. and Gary dead — opted out of being recorded. Others, like Dana’s brother James Manley, who found her dead, appeared on camera. Kenneth’s cousin Donald Stone and Stone’s son Luke Rhoden, who found Kenneth’s body, also appeared on camera.
From Donald’s testimony:
Donald Stone is describing going to the church on Union Hill Rd. across 32 from where the Rhodens lived. I was there that day as we were kept back. It was the saddest sight: family members showing up sobbing as they heard about their loved ones @LawCrimeNetwork
— Angenette Levy (@Angenette5) September 15, 2022
[Image of Evans via Pike County Sheriff’s Office]
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