Pike County Massacre: Prosecutors reach jury pool goal for upcoming trial of eldest Wagner son
PIKE COUNTY, Ohio (WXIX) - The final jury pool stands at 50 with potential jurors still being questioned for the upcoming murder trial of George Wagner IV in the 2016 execution-style slayings of eight members of the Rhoden family in rural southeastern Ohio.
The killings are the state’s biggest and most complex homicide investigation to date.
Prosecutors have now reached their goal for the jury pool. They were hoping for 40 to 60.
The jury will consist of 12 jurors and at least four alternates.
Defense attorneys have claimed they would never be able to seat a jury in Pike County, but she says this clearly dispels that theory.
Jury selection will be finalized on Aug. 29, the same day Wagner, 30, goes on trial.
He was indicted in November 2018 on a total of 22 charges, including eight counts of aggravated murder.
Wagner 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, is now expected to testify against his own brother by taking the stand for the prosecution.
He 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.
His mother 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.
The other Wagner still facing trial is the family patriarch, George “Billy” Wagner III, 50.
He remains 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.
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.
The judge 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.
Pike County Common Pleas Court Judge Randy Deering oversaw the proceedings when Jake Wagner and his mother formally pleaded guilty and he now will oversee the eldest son’s trial.
He barred cameras and recording devices during jury selection to protect the identities of potential jurors.
Generally speaking, the bar to qualify to sit on a jury is quite low. Potential jurors only have to convince the judge that they can be fair and unbiased during the trial and in their deliberations.
The judge told each potential juror that any personal or religious objection to the death penalty is not grounds for dismissal from jury selection.
He also told them they had to convince him they can fairly weigh the evidence with a “clean slate.”
A vast majority (if not all) of the potential jurors said during jury questioning over the past week that they either knew the Rhodens, had associations with them or “heard” about the murders.
Many jurors disclosed during questioning they had a physical or emotional connection to the Pike County murders.
One said her brother was good friends with one of the victims, Chris Rhoden, Jr. She said she wasn’t sure if she would be able to look at crime scene photos.
She was excluded.
So was another woman who said she worked on social service cases including the surviving Rhoden children.
The judge did, however, accept a woman who said it would be “hard not to use outside knowledge when considering the case.”
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