Closing arguments slated in trial in 2016 slayings of Rhoden family

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Set for Monday after Thanksgiving

WAVERLY (AP) — Closing arguments are scheduled for the Monday after Thanksgiving in the trial of a man charged in the 2016 slayings of eight current and prospective members of another family in southern Ohio.

Prosecution and defense both rested their cases Friday for the Pike County trial of George Wagner IV. The 31-year-old took the stand earlier in the week to deny having had any knowledge of a plot to kill the victims and to say that he would have taken action to prevent the slayings had he known about such a plan.

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In April 2016, seven members of the Rhoden family and the fiancée of one member were shot to death in several different locations. Wagner and three members of his family were arrested more than two years after the slayings, which authorities have said stemmed from a custody dispute.

Special prosecutor Angela Canepa has not accused George Wagner IV of shooting anyone but has alleged that he took part in planning, carrying out and covering up “one of the most heinous crimes in Ohio history.” The defense has argued that George Wagner IV is not like the rest of his family and had nothing to do with the killings.

Canepa has alleged that George Wagner IV was with his brother and his father when they drove to locations where victims were killed, went inside with the pair and helped his brother move two of the bodies.

George Wagner IV testified that he was at home sleeping on the night of the murders. He said he learned that the Rhodens were dead from TV reports, calling the news “heartbreaking.” On cross-examination, Canepa attacked his credibility, citing inconsistencies between his testimony and his 2017 statements to authorities.

His younger brother, Edward “Jake” Wagner, testified as part of a deal that spared him the death penalty. He said he killed five of the eight victims and implicated the brothers’ father in the other three slayings.

He said he felt he had no choice but to kill the mother of his toddler daughter because he feared for the girl’s safety.

Angela Wagner, the mother of Jake and George, earlier pleaded guilty to helping plan the slayings but blamed the massacre on her husband, George “Billy” Wagner III. She said he believed the other family would seek revenge for the woman’s death and would kill Jake “if not all of us,” so the rest of her family “had to be murdered.”

George “Billy” Wagner III has pleaded not guilty and likely won’t go on trial until next year.

Those killed were 40-year-old Christopher Rhoden Sr.; his ex-wife, 37-year-old Dana Rhoden; their three children, 20-year-old Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden, 16-year-old Christopher Jr., and 19-year-old Hanna Rhoden, the mother of Jake Wagner’s daughter; Clarence Rhoden’s fiancée, 20-year-old Hannah Gilley; Christopher Rhoden Sr.’s brother, 44-year-old Kenneth Rhoden; and a cousin, 38-year-old Gary Rhoden.