Defense attorney pushes to move Rhoden family murder trial

These undated images, show from left, George "Billy" Wagner III, Angela Wagner, George Wagner IV and Edward "Jake" Wagner. (Ohio Attorney General's office via AP)
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In April of 2016, the mass murder of eight members of the Rhoden family drew media attention from across the state of Ohio.

Criminal defense attorney Mark Collins said rural Pike County has been the target of the media spotlight ever since.

"It's one of the few cases in Ohio that I have seen this much media coverage. It's been covered since day one. Every aspect of the case, every twist and turn, and that's what? About 2, 2 and a half years ago," Collins said.

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The Columbus attorney said he will enter a not guilty plea for Billy Wagner when he faces a judge on December 4.

Collins said investigators have labeled his client the mastermind of the murder plot but said Wagner has a seventh-grade education and no serious criminal history.

Investigators in Pike County have charged Billy Wagner, his wife Angela, and the couples two sons, George and Jake Wagner, with aggravated murder with death penalty specifications. That means each defendant must have his or her own jury when their case goes to trial. Collins said seating four fair and impartial juries in Pike County could prove impossible.

"You're hearing about people who have such a divided opinion as to what's happened, or what potentially might have happened, or the reasons, or the motives," said Collins.

Collins said in Franklin County, it's not unusual for attorneys to dismiss hundreds of potential jurors in a capital case before settling on 12 men and women.

Franklin County has a population of nearly 1.3 million people. The population of Pike County is just over 28,000 people.

Collins said it's possible to seat one fair and impartial jury, but said whittling the jury down to 48 men and women who can set aside their opinions and serve as fair and impartial jurors is extremely unlikely, but is it impossible?

"Everyone saw Lee Harvey Oswald get killed on TV by Jack Ruby. And it was live. They were still able to seat a jury," said Collins. "I don't have a crystal ball. I can't predict that there will be too much media attention that most of the jurors have formed opinions, or are too emotionally embraced in the case, or are involved in the case, or have already taken sides."

In Ohio, prosecutors and defense attorneys must at least try to seat a jury before the court will consider moving a trial.

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