WAVERLY, Ohio (WKRC) – Pike County Common Pleas Court Judge Randy Deering Friday ruled that witnesses in the upcoming murder trial of George Wagner IV can request to not be videotaped or photographed during their testimony. He also ruled broadcast outlets can’t play the audio only of such testimony if a witness opts out.
Opening statements are scheduled for Monday morning in Wagner’s murder trial, a week later than expected due to a delay caused by an illness with one of the lawyers in the case.
Wagner is charged with eight counts of aggravated murder and numerous other charges for his alleged role in the killing of eight members of the Rhoden and Gilley families in April 2016.
Deering is going to allow each witness to opt out of being shown on camera, photographed or recorded. That includes any audio of their testimony. So, if they choose to opt out, witnesses will only be seen and heard by people inside the courtroom.
The judge will also extend that right to Wagner's younger brother, Jake Wagner, and his mother, Angela Wagner, when they testify for the prosecution, which is expected in three to four weeks. Both have already pleaded guilty to the killings or helping plan the crimes and agreed to testify against other family members.
Cincinnati media lawyer Jack Greiner represented Local 12 and several other outlets in the effort to open access to the trial.
"We're disappointed in the ruling,” he said. “We had hoped that we'd get a ruling that would really go toward maximizing the public's ability to participate in this trial in, at least, in the sense of observing it. People can come to the courtroom, but for many people, that's not possible."
One thing still up in the air: Whether outlets can show key evidence like the trailers where the killings took place or any murder weapon that is introduced. The judge initially blocked any video or photos of any evidence but later said in a hearing in August he may allow it, so it's unclear what will be allowed.
Deering relied on Rule 12 of the Ohio Rules of Superintendence for conducting trials in Friday’s ruling. But other Ohio judges have at least allowed audio of witnesses who opted out from being on camera to be used in high-profile murder cases like this.