Coroner, former BCI agent return to stand in Pike County massacre trial
WAVERLY, Ohio (WXIX) - The forensic pathologist who performed autopsies on all eight of the Pike County massacre victims returned to the stand Friday as testimony resumes in George Wagner IV’s murder trial.
Hamilton County Chief Deputy Coroner Dr. Karen Looman gave jurors details earlier this week about the autopsy findings of Christopher Rhoden Sr. and his cousin, Gary Rhoden.
Now, she’s back to tell them about the autopsies of three of the other six victims: Christopher Rhoden Sr.’s ex-wife, Dana Rhoden, 37, and their children: Hanna May Rhoden, 19, and Christopher Rhoden Jr., 16.
A former special agent for the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation was on the stand first, though, wrapping up the testimony he started Thursday.
Bryan White processed the crime scene at Dana Rhoden’s trailer.
The prosecution’s questioning of White on Friday focused on the evidence White collected from 3122 Union Hill Road.
“We did an extensive search in the residence for casings, bullets, that type of thing,” White said.
White testified that he found one lead fragment in the bed where Dana Rhoden’s body was discovered and one shell casing in Hannah’s room underneath a baby crib next to her bed.
White says there are many factors that can impact where a bullet casing lands.
“Casings can bounce off of things,” he explained. “They can be stepped on. They can be kicked. They can be moved.”
White says he also swabbed a blood stain on the floor of Chris Jr.’s bedroom and the lab results show the DNA from that swab was in fact Chris Jr’s. White also swabbed another blood stain from Dana’s left thigh.
“She wasn’t in a position herself to deposit this on her leg,” White told the jury. “It could have been dropped from another source.
The DNA from that swab was Dana Rhoden’s. Both the prosecution and the defense agree that no DNA from George IV or any of his family was found on any of the evidence collected from crime scene number three.
The defense did not cross-examine White, so the prosecution then called Hamilton County Chief Deputy Coroner Looman.
Dr. Looman was questioned about the autopsies of Dana, Hannah and Chris Jr.
Looman said all three died from multiple gunshots to the head.
During the defense’s cross-examination of Looman, George IV’s attorney asked about the two gunshot wounds to the back of Hannah’s head.
Defense: “The weapon used would have been behind her head when it struck the back of her head is that right?”
Dr. Looman: “It could be next to her or behind her.”
Court adjourned around 3 p.m. Friday.
When they resume Monday, more testimony from another BCI special agent is expected.
Nearly all eight of the victims were found shot execution-style shortly before 8 a.m. on April 22, 2016. Their bodies were in three separate trailers on adjacent properties off Union Hill Road in Piketon near the village of Peebles (about 60 miles from Cincinnati).
The eighth victim - Christopher Rhoden Sr.’s brother, Kenneth Rhoden - was found dead from a single gunshot wound to his right eye several hours inside his trailer 6.5 miles away on Left Fork Road.
The killers spared two babies and a toddler, leaving them behind with their slain parents at the Union Hill Road residences: Hanna May Rhoden’s 5-day-old daughter, Kylie; Frankie Rhoden’s 3-year-old son, Brentley and his other son, Ruger, whose mother was Hannah Hazel Gilley.
Four members of another family, the Wagners, were indicted in the slayings in November 2018.
The eldest son, George Wagner IV, 30, has pleaded not guilty to several charges including eight counts of aggravated murder.
His younger brother, Jake Wagner, and their mother, Angela Wagner, are scheduled to testify against him in the coming weeks.
Jake Wagner and his mother 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.
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 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.
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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