Pike County Massacre: Jurors tour more significant locations Thursday
This story will be updated each day with the latest information.
PIKE COUNTY, Ohio (WXIX) - Jurors were once again touring significant locations in connection with the 2016 Pike County Massacre ahead of opening statements in the trial of George Wagner IV.
Over the past three days, 12 jurors and six alternates were taken to three different counties to tour about a dozen sites.
The first stop of Thursday took jurors to the ranch belonging to George’s grandmother, Fredericka Wagner.
Dive teams have searched the property several times since the execution-style killings of eight members of the Rhoden family.
Frederick was initially charged with obstruction and perjury in the case, but those charges for lying to a grand jury were dropped in 2019.
“It was dismissed because I was innocent,” Frederick said. “They had no evidence against me.”
There was plenty of evidence, according to prosecutors, against Frederick’s grandson and son, Billy Wagner.
The jury toured the family’s former property on Peterson Road in Peebles where prosecutors say the Wagners planned the murders.
“We found evidence that they were purchasing items to make suppressors for a .22 caliber long rifle and a .40 caliber,” stated Ohio BCI Lead Agent Ryan Scheiderer.
A gun silencer that agent Scheiderer says can easily be made out of a Maglite-type flashlight.
“[Investigators] recovered what appeared to be a Maglight tube, what I believe and looked like to be fashioned into a suppressor,” agent Scheiderer explained.
Prosecutors say the Wagners launched their attack on the Rhoden family’s Union Hill Road homes from their Peterson Road address and they brought the gun silencing devices with them.
“The one location there were three victims all in three different bedrooms that appeared to be killed in their sleep,” the agent said. “Which, to us, told us that the firearm had to be suppressed. The sound had to be suppressed. Otherwise, the others would have woken up. “
The nine women and three men jury in the trial for George Wagner IV are getting to tour areas of interest in regards to the case.
All 12 jurors and the six alternates were escorted to the scenes where eight members of the Rhoden family were killed execution-style back in 2016.
Wednesday began with the jury being sworn in and George waiving his right to accompany them on the tour of the crime scenes.
A convoy of cars carrying court officials, law enforcement agents, journalists, and even the judge himself, first stopped at the Union Hill Road address of Chris Rhoden, Senior.
Prosecutors say Chris Sr. and his cousin Gary, who was there with him that night, were the first two victims.
The jury then walked a few hundred yards to the spot where Frankie Rhoden and his fiancée, Hazel Gilley, were killed.
Frankie’s two young sons were within the home at the time but were unharmed.
The jurors were then driven six miles to Left Fork Road in Scioto county.
The one-lane gravel road is where prosecutors say Kenneth Rhoden was murdered in his camper.
The group then ended up back on Union Hill Road to walk the property of Dana Rhoden, her daughter Hanna and her son Chris Jr.
Hanna’s newborn baby was found unharmed in the bed with her mother.
Prosecutors say the motive for the killings was fueled by the Wagners’ obsession to gain custody of Sophia, the daughter of Jake Wagner and Hanna Rhoden.
The jury will tour more scenes on Tuesday, including the south Pike County ranch of Fredricka Wagner. Jurors will still have to visit the Wagner family home on Peterson Road, where prosecutors say they planned the attacks and where gun shell casing evidence was found.
A jury has been seated in the murder trial of George Wagner IV for his alleged role in the 2016 Pike County Massacre.
After compiling the nine women and three men jury panel, the state and defense seated six alternates (five women and a man).
George Wagner IV, 30, is the first member of his family to his case go to trial since eight members of the Rhoden family were killed in execution-style shootings.
During jury selection, Wagner defense attorney John Parker told the jurors they might find the Wagner family “fascinating but a tangled web.”
A possible reference to the Wagner family dynamic.
“Their finances are intermingled,” stated Ohio BCI Lead Agent Ryan Scheiderer. “They work together. They’ve always worked together. They live together. They home school together. They raise their kids together. Everything is done together. As well as we have an informant who says every decision within that family is made as a family decision.”
Once the jury is fully seated, the group will go on a jury view. Jurors will be taken to the four crime scenes on Union Hill Road and Left Fork Road, possibly as early as Wednesday.
Opening statements are not expected until next week, on Tuesday, Sept. 6. The courthouse is closed next Monday for Labor Day.
Lead up to the trial
Wagner was indicted in November 2018 on a total of 22 charges, including eight counts of aggravated murder.
Wagner was 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.
He has pleaded not guilty.
Geoge Wagner’s 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.”
Special Prosecutor Angie Canepa told the potential jurors they do not expect attorneys to call all 264 witnesses, but she did say this will be a long trial.
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