Mistrial request rejected again in Pike County Massacre trial, jury sees where 3 victims were killed

Eight members of the Rhoden family were found fatally shot near Piketon, in rural southern...
Eight members of the Rhoden family were found fatally shot near Piketon, in rural southern Ohio, on April 22, 2016. (Provided photos)
Published: Sep. 22, 2022 at 7:16 AM EDT|Updated: Sep. 22, 2022 at 12:31 PM EDT

WAVERLY, Ohio (WXIX) - Testimony wrapped up early Thursday in the Pike County massacre trial with a former special agent with the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation on the stand.

Bryan White, who now is a lieutenant at the Madison County Sheriff’s Office, continued walking jurors through crime scene photos he took at the Union Hill Road residence-turned-crime scene on April 22, 2016.

George Wagner IV, 30, is one of four members of his family charged in the April 2016 slayings of seven members of the Rhoden family and Hannah Hazel Gilley.

Dana Rhoden, 37, and her two children, Hanna May Rhoden, 19, and Christopher Rhoden Jr., 16, were all shot execution-style in separate bedrooms, in their own beds.

Four other victims were found in two other trailers elsewhere on the property: Christopher Rhoden Sr., 40, his cousin Gary Rhoden, 38, Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden, 20 and his fiance, Hannah Gilley, 20.

The eighth and final victim, Christopher Rhoden Sr.’s brother, Kenneth Rhoden, 44, was found shot once in his right eye at his trailer some 6.5 miles away.

Dana Rhoden was Christopher Rhoden Sr.’s ex-wife and Christopher Rhoden Jr. and Hanna May Rhoden were their children.

Pike County massacre: Complete trial coverage

White testified Thursday afternoon that Christopher Rhoden Jr. was covered by a comforter and was not wearing any clothes when he was found.

He also discussed evidence found in Dana Rhoden’s room including the pillows on and around her head.

“We found, who was identified as Dana Rhoden, lying on her back in a bed, a pillow covering her face,” explained White. “Clearly bleeding from the head area.”

After an almost 45-minute break, court adjourned for the day. No reason was given as to why.

Earlier in the day, White revealed that Hanna May Rhoden was found with one breast exposed and the other covered up. That indicates she may have been nursing when she was shot twice in the head.

Her 5-day-old baby girl, Kylie, was found in the room with her, alive.

Hanna May Rhoden was the main target of the massacre plot, Special Prosecutor Angela Canepa said during her opening statement.

The motive, she told the jury, was the control and care of Hanna May Rhoden’s daughter, who was 2 at the time.

Hanna May Rhoden and George Wagner IV”s younger brother, Jake Wagner, began dating when she was 13 and he was 18. She became pregnant at 15 but the couple broke up after their daughter was born.

Hanna May Rhoden refused to sign custody over to Jake Wagner, so the Wagner family carefully planned the murders, watched the Rhodens for months and then killed the teen mother, relatives and anyone else there who could be a witness, Canepa has said.

At the beginning of his testimony Thursday, White detailed some of the evidence he collected outside the trailer for DNA testing: A $5 bill on the grass outside, more cigarette butts.

There was a 30-minute delay to court starting earlier Thursday morning while attorneys on both sides met in private with Pike County Common Pleas Court Judge Randy Deering.

George Wagner IV’s defense team argued again for a mistrial before the judge after requesting one Wednesday after prosecutors continued showing graphic photos to the jury, including ones taken during the victims’ autopsies.

Pike County Common Pleas Court Judge Randy Deering ultimately rejected the request but not before Wagner IV’s attorney argued the“grisly” images would evoke anger from the jurors that would be used against his client.

“They’re intended to gain sympathy from the jury,” John Parker said. “To have the jury make an emotional reaction and to distract them from the disputed issues.”

His attorneys claim he was not there when the killings occurred and didn’t know about it until his brother received a phone call about it.

Wagner IV has pleaded not guilty.

Legal analyst talks George Wagner IV trial

Download & Listen on Spotify or Apple: Cincinnati’s Crime Vault | Beyond the Broadcast: Pike County Massacre - Parts 1, 2, 3 and 4

Prosecutors countered the mistrial request by pointing out the photos are part of their evidence as they make their case against Wagner IV.

“We are being very conservative in the photos that we use only to help the witnesses expound upon their testimony as the court has noted,” Special State Prosecutor Angie Canepa said. “I have not noticed any reactions from the jurors. Certainly, nobody has broken down crying and had to stop us or anything of that nature.”

Some of the pictures corroborate testimony, she said, that jurors will hear later in the trial, especially from one of their star witnesses, Wagner IV’s younger brother, Jake Wagner, who confessed to the killings and pleaded guilty last year.

His mother Angela Wagner, also pleaded guilty to her role.

Both are expected to testify against Wagner IV, in a couple of weeks.

His attorneys claim he was not there when the killings occurred and didn’t know about it until his brother received a phone call about it.

The trial is expected to last six to eight weeks, prosecutors have said.

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

Exhibit from prosecution during opening statements in the trial of George IV.
Exhibit from prosecution during opening statements in the trial of George IV.(Liz Duf | Cincinnati Enquirer)

The other Wagner still facing trial and accused of actually shooting and killing anyone is the family patriarch, 50-year-old George “Billy” Wagner III.

He has pleaded not guilty and remains locked up at the Butler County Jail.

He is charged with 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.

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