Pike County Massacre: Wagner family patriarch returns to court

Pike County Massacre: Wagner family patriarch returns to court
Published: Nov. 17, 2021 at 12:09 PM EST
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WAVERLY, Ohio (WXIX) - One of the suspects in the Pike County massacre, George “Billy” Wagner III, returned to court Wednesday for a motion hearing.

Judge Randy Deering said he would hold off on making a ruling for defense motions until Billy’s final pretrial hearing in February.

Billy’s defense team is questioning ballistic and shoeprint evidence that the prosecution says were found at the crime scenes.

The judge did say Wednesday that the attorneys on both sides will conduct a meeting away from the courthouse in December. What that meeting will center around is unknown.

The special prosecutor in the case told FOX19 NOW she hopes there will be a firm trial date set for Billy Wagner during that next hearing in February.

The previous time Billy was in court, the judge denied a request from his defense attorneys to dismiss the death penalty before he goes on trial.

The prosecution has said his youngest son, Edward “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, 50, his son and his wife were all indicted three years ago this week on multiple charges including eight aggravated murder charges related to the execution-style slayings of eight members of the Rhoden family in 2016.

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

Jake Wagner and his mother, Angela Wagner, who is married to Billy Wagner, recently pleaded guilty to their roles.

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.

Shortly after, George Wagner IV’s lawyers filed court records recently noting state’s evidence now proves he didn’t shoot and kill any of the eight victims.

The recent confessions of his mother and younger brother determine he is not eligible for the death penalty, his attorney contends.

They want the death specification taken off their client’s case along with the aggravated murder charges.

A hearing is set for Dec. 22 to discuss the dismissal of the charges.

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.
  • Kylie 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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