Pike County Massacre: Judge rules to allow shoe expert to testify before a jury

George Wagner IV in Pike County Common Pleas Court on March 7.
George Wagner IV in Pike County Common Pleas Court on March 7.
Published: Apr. 5, 2022 at 4:25 AM EDT|Updated: Apr. 5, 2022 at 4:51 AM EDT
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WAVERLY, OHIO (WXIX) - Judge Randy Deering will allow a shoe print expert to testify before a jury as he denied the defense team of George Wagner IV’s motion on Tuesday.

The prosecution’s expert witness, William Bodziak, sat on the stand for more than two hours as he answered questions and explained his qualifications.

Bodziak said he’s been working with shoe print evidence since the mid 1970′s. He even recorded a video of his trips to shoe manufacturing plants to see how select pairs are made.

The former FBI special agent also wrote several books on the subject.

Wagner, 30, is accused of taking part in the April 2016 execution-style slayings of eight members of the Rhoden family. The killings are the state’s biggest and most complex homicide investigation to date.

Days before the slayings, Angela Wagner was seen on security camera footage buying shoes at the Waverly Walmart, according to prosecutors.

In her plea agreement, Angela admitted that she bought a brand of shoe that she said her sons would never wear and sizes that were larger than her sons’ feet.

The shoes have never been found and it was said Tuesday by the prosecution that that evidence has been destroyed.

The prosecution still says Bodziak can aid their case.

Prosecutor: “How can you [Bodziak] make a comparison to a shoe print, an impression, a footprint impression that was left at a crime scene in Ohio?”

Bodziak: “Because manufacturers sell their shoes all over the country. So, if they’re sold at one Walmart, they’re probably sold at a majority of them.”

The prosecution argues that Bodziak is completely qualified to testify in front of a jury, but Wagner’s defense team focused on the fact that the shoes were never recovered and human error in the analysis can be a shadow of a doubt.

Defense: “In your experience and training, you [Bodziak] were unable to arrive at a conclusion as to who may have left a particular impression.

Bodziak: “At the scene in this case?

Defense: “Sure, yes.

Bodziak: “No, I wasn’t asked to do that nor could I do that.”

In the end, after hours of back and forth, the judge ruled in favor of the prosecution team on Tuesday.

George Wagner IV’s trial is scheduled to begin on Aug. 29.

Wagner IV is indicted on a total of 22 charges, including eight counts of aggravated murder.

He’s also charged with 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.

His younger brother, Edward “Jake” Wagner, and his mother, Angela Wagner, both pleaded guilty last year for their roles.

Jake Wagner, 28, pleaded guilty to eight counts of murder and 15 other charges including gun specifications, conspiracy, burglary, possession of dangerous ordnance and tampering with evidence.

In exchange, prosecutors say they will drop the possibility of the death penalty and Jake Wagner agreed to serve eight life sentences without parole.

His lawyer said Jake Wagner “knows he’s going to die in prison without any judicial relief.”

He is held at the Franklin County Jail.

In September, 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.

The prosecution is recommending the 51-year-old woman serve 30 years in prison with no possibility of the death penalty. She currently is held at the jail in Delaware County.

As part of the pleas, Jake Wagner and Angela Wagner agreed to testify against George Wagner IV and the family patriarch, George “Billy” Wagner, 50.

George Wagner IV’s lawyers contend that the confessions from his mother and younger brother determine that he did not shoot or kill any member of the Rhoden family.

Judge Deering, however, has refused to throw out the death penalty possibility for both George Wagner IV and Billy Wagner.

George Wagner IV and his father have both pleaded not guilty.

George Wagner IV is being held at the Montgomery County Jail.

His father is locked up at the Butler County Jail on eight counts of aggravated murder, four counts of aggravated burglary, three counts of tampering with evidence, two counts of unlawful possession of dangerous ordnance and single counts of conspiracy, forgery, unauthorized use of computer or telecommunications, interception of wire, oral or electronic communication, obstructing justice and engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity.

Judge Deering said earlier this year that a final hearing on the evidence and testimony related to his role in the killings will be held by the end of August and his trial date will be set no later than Oct. 31.

A trial date will be set no later than Oct. 31, according to the judge.

Prosecutors have said the Wagners planned the execution-style murders for months so Jake Wagner could have sole custody of his then-2-year-old daughter, Sophia, whom he shared with one of the ovictims, Hanna Mae Rhoden, 19.

The day the Wagners’ indictments were announced in November 2018, then-Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, who now is the governor, said the family was obsessed with custody and “control of the children.”

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 Rhoden Sr. was among the first killed and was awake when he was confronted by at least one person with a gun, the autopsy 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, Ruger Lee, who was six months old at the time. 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

Jake Wagner and Hanna Rhoden began dating when he was 17 and she 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 of their daughter.

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

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