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George Wagner IV found guilty on all charges in Pike County Massacre trial

Lexington WKYT 12/4/2022 Jennifer Edwards Baker, Mike Schell

WAVERLY, Ohio (WXIX) - George Wagner IV has been found guilty on all charges including eight counts of aggravated murder in the Pike County Massacre trial.

George sat downcast and expressionless as Judge Randy Deering read the jury’s verdict on each of the 22 counts.

Tony Rhoden spoke afterward. “A little bit of peace,” he said of what the verdict gave him. “We still have a long road to go. We’ll get there because we are a family.”

MORE | Rhodens show resilience, resolve in aftermath of George Wagner IV verdict

A sentencing hearing is expected sometime during the last two weeks of December.

The trial began in September and lasted 11 weeks. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine called it “one of the longest, if not the longest, trials in Ohio history.”

The trial followed, according to DeWine, the most complicated investigation in the history of the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigations. It involved nearly 5,000 pieces of evidence as well as a small army of investigators, analysts, forensic scientists and crime scene advocates.

“They put this case together. They figured out what at the time seemed such an implausible motive, custody of a child, that led to eight murders. They did it. They are true professionals. They combined old-fashioned police work with modern technology to solve a very difficult case.”

Special Prosecutor Andrew Wilson added, “I have never seen an investigation that was done this well, that was this complex, and where the folks involved in the trenches were so dedicated.”

The jury started deliberating at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday morning and reached the verdict in eight hours.

“It says something to the overwhelming evidence presented by the prosecutors in this case,” said DeWine.

Special Prosecutor Angela Canepa read each of the slain Rhoden’s names aloud in the press conference Wednesday evening.

“I know today’s verdict does not bring your loved ones back,” she said to the surviving Rhodens. “But I hope it does give you some semblance of peace that another of the evil monsters that did this is held accountable.”

Pike County massacre: Complete trial coverage

George, 31, was accused of planning and covering up eight murders with his family overnight April 21-22, 2016 in rural Piketon, about two hours east of Downtown Cincinnati.

George, his brother Jake Wagner, 28, and their parents Angela Wagner, 52, and Billy Wagner, 51, were all indicted on capital murder charges in November 2018.

The death penalty is off the table for George after his brother and mother testified against him for the state.

Both pleaded guilty to their roles in the slayings last year. Their testimonies were part of their plea deals with prosecutors.

George Wagner was the first one to be tried since eight members of the Rhoden and Gilley families were killed more than six years ago.

George’s father Billy is continuing to fight the charges and will be tried next year.

In the background, the residence where some of the Pike County Massacre slayings took place can be seen. © Provided by Lexington WKYT In the background, the residence where some of the Pike County Massacre slayings took place can be seen.

The victims are Christopher Rhoden Sr., 40; his older brother, Kenneth Rhoden, 44; his cousin, Gary Rhoden, 38; Chris Rhoden Sr.’s former wife, Dana Lynn Rhoden, 37, and their children: Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden, 20, Hanna May Rhoden, 19, Christopher Rhoden Jr., 16, and Frankie’s fiancé, Hannah “Hazel” Gilley, 20.

Two infants and a toddler were spared by the killers and left behind at the murder scenes: a 5-day-old baby girl, a 6-month-old baby boy and a 3-year-old boy.

Prosecutors said the motive in the murders is the custody of the young daughter of one of the confessed killers, Jake Wagner and one of the victims he confessed to shooting in the head twice, Hanna May Rhoden.

The young couple began dating when she was 13 and he was 18. She became pregnant at 15 with Sophia.

They broke up after their daughter was born.

The bodies of members of the Rhoden family were discovered the morning of April 22, 2016. All were shot execution style. © Provided by Lexington WKYT The bodies of members of the Rhoden family were discovered the morning of April 22, 2016. All were shot execution style.

Hanna May Rhoden, who had moved on to have a second daughter with another man at the time of her death, had refused to sign custody of Sophia over to Jake Wagner, prosecutors say.

They alleged that’s why the Wagner family carefully planned the murders and killed her family and anyone else there who could be a witness.

The brutal murders are considered the state’s largest and most expensive homicide case to date and its prosecution has been voluminous.

Estimates from state and local officials place the costs so far at nearly $4 million, all funded by the state of Ohio.

Some 60 witnesses testified over three months (50 for the state, 10 for the defense) as prosecutors and the defense presented thousands of pieces of evidence. Evidence stickers started at “A” and ended with “MMMM.”

Court records show more than 110 motions were filed by attorneys on both sides.

The jury is “probably” the longest-serving one in any criminal case in Ohio, according to Special Prosecutor Angela Canepa.

She put on a four-and-a-half hour closing argument on Monday, saying George lied when he testified in his own defense earlier this month and denied all involvement in the massacre.

Two of the four people who say they are responsible for the slayings, Jake Wagner and Angela Wagner testified truthfully when they took the stand, Canepa told the jury.

Jurors should listen to Jake Wagner and Angela Wagner now as they decide George Wagner’s fate, Canepa said.

“The family has spoken,” she told jurors Monday. “Jake and Angela have told you everything this defendant did that night.”

Both the state and defense agree he didn’t shoot or kill anyone, but that’s where the similarities end.

Prosecutors have repeatedly argued George is complicit in the killings even though he didn’t actually shoot anyone. They say he is still eligible for aggravated murder convictions and should be convicted because he actively participated in the planning and covering up of the killings

George may not have pulled the trigger but “you better believe that he is up to his eyeballs in this with his family,” Special Prosecutor Andy Wilson told jurors in rebuttal to the defense’s closing argument Tuesday.

Anyone who aids, abets and assists someone who commits murder can also be charged with murder, Wilson stressed.

D. Andrew Wilson, Ohio special prosecutor, delivers the rebuttal in closing arguments during the trial of George Wagner IV, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022 in Pike County Common Pleas Court in Waverly, Ohio. Wilson points at the defendant to say he did indeed take part in the homicides. Wagner earlier testified he had no part or knowledge of the homicides. The trial started Aug. 29, 2022. Eight members of the Rhoden family were found shot to death at four different locations on April 21-22, 2016. Wagner’s brother Jake Wagner and mom, Angela Wagner, have already pleaded guilty. George’s dad, George “Billy” Wagner III will go on trial in 2023. Liz Dufour/Cincinnati Enquirer © Provided by Lexington WKYT D. Andrew Wilson, Ohio special prosecutor, delivers the rebuttal in closing arguments during the trial of George Wagner IV, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022 in Pike County Common Pleas Court in Waverly, Ohio. Wilson points at the defendant to say he did indeed take part in the homicides. Wagner earlier testified he had no part or knowledge of the homicides. The trial started Aug. 29, 2022. Eight members of the Rhoden family were found shot to death at four different locations on April 21-22, 2016. Wagner’s brother Jake Wagner and mom, Angela Wagner, have already pleaded guilty. George’s dad, George “Billy” Wagner III will go on trial in 2023. Liz Dufour/Cincinnati Enquirer

George Wagner IV’s defense said in his closing argument prosecutors simply don’t have enough evidence against George.

Attorney John Parker lost a request to the judge last week for George’s acquittal due to a lack of evidence.

Nevertheless, on Tuesday he repeatedly continued to reject what he called the case’s “fatal flaw”: the prosecution’s contention that the motive in the murders was control and custody of George’s niece, Sophia, the daughter of his brother, Jake Wagner, and one of the five victims Jake confessed to killing, Hanna May Rhoden.

‘The state has this theory that they have presented ad nauseam that this is about custody,” he said, dismissing that as “making no sense.

“Have you ever heard of such a thing? No,” he told the jury. “People don’t kill each other over custody. We have a whole court system to deal with custody. Quite frankly, I don’t think anybody will ever believe this is about custody.”

Defense attorney John P. Parker delivers his closing statement in the trial of George Wagner IV, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022 in Pike County Common Pleas Court in Waverly, Ohio. Eight members of the Rhoden family were found shot to death at four different locations on April 21-22, 2016. Wagner’s brother Jake Wagner and mom, Angela Wagner, have already pleaded guilty. George’s dad, George “Billy” Wagner III will go on trial in 2023. © Provided by Lexington WKYT Defense attorney John P. Parker delivers his closing statement in the trial of George Wagner IV, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022 in Pike County Common Pleas Court in Waverly, Ohio. Eight members of the Rhoden family were found shot to death at four different locations on April 21-22, 2016. Wagner’s brother Jake Wagner and mom, Angela Wagner, have already pleaded guilty. George’s dad, George “Billy” Wagner III will go on trial in 2023.

Like his father, George Wagner IV maintained his innocence.

Parker says George was not even there on the night of the slayings.

He spent a large amount of time on Tuesday attacking the character of Jake Wagner and Angela Wagner and their testimonies.

Parker called parts of Jake’s testimony “Fantasy. This is part of Jake’s fantasy.”

He said the true motive of the killings was not custody of Sophia but abuse concerns both Jake and Angela had about the then-2-year-old while she was in the care of her mother.

Parker claimed Jake Wagner killed all eight of the victims, not just the five he confessed and testified to.

It was Jake, not his father, according to Parker, who killed Chris Rhoden Sr., Gary Rhoden and Kenneth Rhoden along with the other five Jake admitted to shooting to death (Hanna Rhoden, her mother Dana Rhoden, her brothers Chris Rhoden Jr and Frankie Rhoden and Frankie Rhoden’s fiancee, Hanna “Hazel” Gilley).

Parker then told the jury the two brothers were very different. George preferred to be hunting and spending time with his son, Parker said, holding up photos.

Jake, on the other hand, “is a very disturbed young man,” Parker said.

George testified his family never approached him about the murder plot and he was asleep the night of the slayings.

Had he known, he claimed he would have stopped them.

“I don’t know how, but I would have never let it happen,” he testified.

Under cross-examination, George said his mother and brother both lied during their testimony and their 2021 confessions to prosecutors.

Parker told the jury it was hard for George to testify given his background.

He testified that he was raised to mistrust law enforcement, homeschooled by his mother only until his early teens, taught as a child by his father to commit crimes like arson and robbery and married his now-ex-wife when they were both very young.

George repeatedly fled the family home only to return, he “didn’t have the fortitude” to break free, his attorney claims.

George “broke every rule his father taught him by getting up here and telling the truth. He did it for himself quite obviously but he did it for his son. Jake and Angela have destroyed this man’s life - and his son’s life,” his attorney said.

Parker ended his closing argument by reminding the jury George was not even at the crime scenes but, if they believe he was, they have to remember he had no intent to kill and was only there to protect Jake from their father.

That statement “absolutely destroyed” the credibility of the defense’s case, Wilson said in rebuttal.

“You can’t have it both ways. The truth is either one or the other - you can’t argue both.”

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