Pike County Massacre: Judge denies Wagner request to dismiss death penalty before trial

Published: Sep. 16, 2021 at 8:18 AM EDT
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WAVERLY, Ohio (WXIX/CINCINNATI ENQUIRER) - A Pike County judge denied a request from defense attorneys Thursday to dismiss the death penalty before George “Billy” Wagner goes on trial.

Wagner’s lawyers argued the death penalty should be taken off the table because it would be “prejudicial” to start a trial as a death penalty case only to change it after the trial has started, our media partners at the Cincinnati Enquirer reported.

The prosecution argued that Jake Wagner must testify against Billy first and that his plea agreement says the state gets to decide if he held up his end of the plea deal.

Billy Wagner will return for another motion hearing on Nov. 17 at 1:30 p.m. in Pike County Common Pleas Court.

Eight members of the Rhoden family were found dead the morning of April 22, 2016, in their Pike County homes in southern Ohio.

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

Edward “Jake” Wagner pleaded guilty to eight counts of aggravated murder in April.

He admitted to killing five members of the Rhoden family and to spying on the family before they were killed, tampering with evidence and obstructing the years-long search for the killers.

Special Prosecutor Angie Canepa has said Jake Wagner confessed and apologized for the crimes. In an interview, he led investigators to the weapons and vehicles used in the killings.

Jake Wagner was the ex-boyfriend of one of the victims, Hanna Rhoden.

Authorities have said the motive of the slayings stemmed in part over a custody dispute over a young daughter Jake Wagner and Hanna Rhoden had together.

Angela Wagner pleaded to conspiracy to commit aggravated murder, several counts of aggravated burglary, tampering with evidence, and other charges as part of a plea deal.

The remaining eight counts of aggravated murder were dismissed.

Pike County Prosecutor Rob Junk has said the victims’ families were aware of both plea deals and agreed to the terms.

Jake Wagner and his mother have agreed to testify against the remaining members of their family facing charges.

George Wagner IV is scheduled now to return to court on Oct. 25.

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Copyright 2021 WXIX. All rights reserved. The Cincinnati Enquirer contributed to this report.