On Wednesday, a jury weighed the defendant’s denials and other testimony against the word of witnesses including his brother and mother, who had earlier pleaded guilty for their roles in the killings of eight members of another Ohio family, and found the defendant guilty.
In Pike County, in southern Ohio, a 31-year-old man named George Wagner IV was found guilty on all 22 charges he faced, including eight counts of aggravated murder, for the 2016 shooting deaths of seven adults and a youngster from the Rhoden family. Wagner sat impassively through the reading of the verdicts, occasionally closing his eyes or gazing down.
Moments after Wagner was carried away in handcuffs, the Rhoden family members who had filled the courthouse in Waverly, about 80 miles east of Cincinnati, embraced each other and wiped away tears.
When asked why he felt terrible for Wagner, Tony Rhoden, whose brother Christopher Rhoden Sr. was one of the victims, replied, “because he is human.” In other words, George Wagner is a real person. They didn’t air it that night,” Rhoden stated as he left the courthouse. It’s something that “never should have happened.”
A battle over custody of Wagner’s niece, the prosecutors said, is at the heart of the grisly murders that at first raised suspicions of drug cartel participation. Fearing for their safety, locals in Piketon were shaken by the April 2016 shooting deaths of four people in three mobile homes and a camper. This sparked one of the most extensive criminal investigations in the state.
Wagner stated that he was unaware of his family’s involvement in the murders and that he would not have allowed them to take place if he had been aware of them.
The prosecution alleged that he was responsible for the murders since he knew about them and helped plot them. Wagner wasn’t charged with any wrongdoing himself, but he was said to have accompanied his brother and father to the houses, entered one of them, and helped his sibling transport two bodies.
Edward “Jake” Wagner, George’s younger brother, pled guilty to aggravated murder and other counts in exchange for the opportunity to testify against George and their parents and spare them from the death penalty.
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Angela Wagner, their mother, admitted her involvement in plotting their murders. George “Billy” Wagner III, the father of the Wagner children, has pled not guilty to murder and is currently awaiting trial.
Ohio’s current governor, Mike DeWine, who was the state’s attorney general during much of the investigation, has stated that approximately 5,000 pieces of evidence were collected. The trial was “one of the longest, if not the longest, in Ohio history,” he said to the jury. A conviction and punishment for George Wagner IV, he added, should bring some kind of solace to the victims’ families.
DeWine said, “From the day that these killings occurred and throughout the protracted investigation, I always trusted that we would unearth the truth.” And I never lost hope that the victims would see justice served. He emphasized that “we’re not done yet.” There will be yet another trial.
The victims included Christopher Rhoden Sr., 40, his ex-wife Dana Rhoden, 37, and their three children, Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden, 20, Hanna Rhoden, 19, and Christopher Rhoden, Jr., 16; Clarence Rhoden’s fiancee, 20-year-old Hannah Gilley; Christopher Rhoden Sr.’s brother Kenneth Rhoden, 44; and a cousin, 38-year-old Gary Rhoden. The majority of victims had multiple bullets pumped into their heads.
After the judgments were announced, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said that investigators had spent countless hours on the case and that this “reinforces the team’s tenacious desire to obtain justice for the victims and their families.”
According to the prosecution, the Wagner family plotted the murders over the course of several months because of their disagreement with Hanna Rhoden over custody of Jake Wagner’s daughter from a previous relationship. A toddler who authorities say was staying with the Wagners at the time of the murders was a target.
The three other little Rhoden youngsters who were present were unharmed in the incident. On the fifth anniversary of the murders, Jake Wagner pleaded guilty and apologized in court. While he has yet to be formally sentenced, his attorney has stated that his client is aware that he faces a lifetime behind bars.
Angela Wagner was given a recommended sentence of 30 years in jail by prosecutors. George Wagner IV’s sentencing will take place at a later time. He was found guilty on Wednesday of aggravated murder as well as conspiracy, tampering with evidence, obstructing justice, and participating in a pattern of corrupt behavior.
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