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Pike County Massacre: Eldest Wagner son returns to court

Published: Oct. 25, 2021 at 3:34 AM EDT|Updated: Oct. 25, 2021 at 3:50 AM EDT
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WAVERLY, Ohio (WXIX) - One of the suspects in the Pike County massacre, George Wagner IV, was back in court Monday for the first time since his lawyer said in court records the state’s evidence now proves he didn’t shoot and kill any of the eight victims.

The attorneys for Wagner IV want the death specification taken off their client’s case along with the aggravated murder charges. On Monday, the judge set a hearing for Dec. 22 to discuss the dismissal of the charges.

Attorneys for the eldest Wagner son wrote in court records filed last month that the recent confessions of his mother and younger brother determine he is not eligible for the death penalty.

“Recently provided discovery makes it clear that George Washington Wagner IV did NOT shoot and kill any of the victims. Yet the State insists on proceeding with this case, a capital case, unless and until Jake Wagner testifies for the State to its satisfaction,” reads the filing from attorney Richard Nash.

“Thus, the State seeks to hold the death penalty over the head of George Wagner who did not kill anybody while it has struck a remarkable plea bargain with the actual killer of at least five of the victims who also shot a sixth victim.”

Edward “Jake” Wagner and Angela Wagner recently pleaded guilty to their roles in the execution-style murders of eight members of the Rhoden family in April 2016.

Jake Wagner, 28 pleaded guilty in April to eight counts of aggravated murder.

He admitted to killing five members of the Rhoden family, shooting a sixth, and spying on the family before the killings, tampering with evidence, and obstructing the years-long search for the killers.

He could receive up to eight consecutive life sentences for the Rhodens’ murders and 160 years imprisonment for the other charges.

In exchange, prosecutors dropped the possibility of the death penalty for him and his family.

Angela Wagner, 51, 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.

The prosecution is recommending she receive 30 years with no possibility of the death penalty. As part of the plea, she has agreed to testify against the other defendants.

After both plea hearings, prosecutors turned over their full confession statements to attorneys representing George Wagner IV and his father, court record show.

FOX19 NOW has asked for copies, too, but the Pike County Prosecutor’s Office denied the request due to the ongoing criminal prosecutions of George Wagner IV and his father.

George Wagner IV was indicted on a total of 22 charges, including eight counts of aggravated murder. Prosecutors wrote in court records “that George Wagner IV shot each victim named personally.”

“It is now clear that such a claim is factually false and untrue. George Washington Wagner IV shot nobody. The State knows (the court records) is false and that George Wagner shot nobody,” court records state.

The other charges George Wagner IV faces are conspiracy to commit aggravated murder, four counts of aggravated burglary, three counts of tampering with evidence, one count each of forgery, unauthorized use of property, interception of wire, oral or electronic communications, obstructing justice, and engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity.

“How fair can it be to put a man through the ordeal of a capital trial when the State knows he is not the actual killer of any of the victims? And the State has given a life sentence to the actual killer of at least 5 of the 8 of the victims?” George IV’s court filings read.

“In addition, how fair can it be to force the taxpayers to pay for the preparation and presentation of a capital case under these unique circumstances? It is well known that special protections exist for a defendant in a capital case and the costs of a capital case are much higher than a non-capital case. Here, George Wagner killed nobody. Yet the State insists through its public filings that he did so ... and seeks the death penalty. The Ohio Constitution prohibits the ordeal that the defendant has endured and must continue to endure as he fights for his life.”

His father, George “Billy Wagner III, 50, was indicted on 22 counts including eight aggravated murder charges, one count of conspiracy to commit aggravated murder, four counts of aggravated burglary, three counts of tampering with evidence, and one count each of forgery, unauthorized use of property, interception of wire, oral or electronic communications, obstructing justice, unlawful possession of dangerous ordinance (firearm) and engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity.

The slayings are considered the state’s biggest and most complex homicide investigation to date.

Prosecutors say the Wagners planned the execution-style murders for months so one of them, Edward “Jake” Wagner, could have sole custody of the young daughter he shared with one of the victims, Hanna Mae Rhoden, 19.

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

All were shot in the head, most several times, according to autopsy records. Christopher Rhoden Sr. was shot a total of nine times, and at least one bullet went through a door before hitting him.

Christopher was among the first killed and was awake when he was confronted by at least one person with a gun, the reports showed.

Three children were at the scene of the slayings but were spared:

  • Brentley Rhoden 4, the son of Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden
  • Brentley’s half-brother, 6-month-old Ruger Lee. His parents were Frankie Rhoden and Hannah Gilley, and they were engaged to be married.
  • Kyle Mae, 5 days old, the newborn daughter of Hanna Rhoden. Kyle was found next to her dead mother.

The murders are a result of what investigators said was a cold-blooded, elaborate and planned execution plot to get rid of anyone who might stand in the way of the custody of Jake Wagner and Hanna Rhoden’s daughter, Sophia.

The two began dating when Hanna Rhoden was 13 years old and she was pregnant at 15, according to prosecutors. The relationship later ended, and then she had a second child with another man.

Prosecutors say Jake Wagner began to pressure her about custody over their daughter.

The little girl was in the care of the Wagners when the Rhodens were killed.

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