Special agent: Same gun used across Pike County murder scenes
WAVERLY, Ohio (WXIX) - Ballistics and shoeprint experts from the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation testified Tuesday as George Wagner IV’s murder trial continues in the 2016 Pike County massacre.
Special Agent Suzanne Elliott was on the witness stand telling jurors about the shoe impressions found at the scenes. She decided against having her testimony recorded and shown on the trial’s live stream.
Elliott testified the shoeprints found in Chris Rhoden Sr.’s house did not match him or his cousin, Gary.
Special Agent Matt White returned to the stand for most of the morning to wrap up his ballistics testimony for the state that started Monday.
White testified about the bullets and shell casings found at each of the four crime scenes. He was asked to compare bullets and bullet fragments from across the crime scenes.
He said he had concluded the .40 caliber bullets found at one scene and, at another scene, removed from the body of Chris Rhoden were fired from the same gun.
White then compared a bullet recovered from the body of Kenneth Rhoden and one fired through the door of Chris Rhoden’s house. He said he had determined the same gun fired both .40 caliber bullets.
The prosecution showed that the Wagner’s owned several weapons and claimed they have a picture of Jake Wagner holding one of the guns used the night the Rhodens were killed.
White testified he couldn’t say who fired the bullets about which he testified earlier in the day.
The defense led White to say it would be difficult to mount or weld a suppressor to the long rifle the prosecution claims was used. The Wagners are accused of destroying materials to build silencers on Jake Wagner’s farm in Peebles.
A few minutes before 1 p.m., it was announced court was adjourned for the day. No reason as to why was given.
The slayings are considered the state’s biggest and most complex homicide investigation.
Wagner IV, 30, is the first member of his family of four who was indicted in the April 21-22, 2016 slayings to go on trial.
He has pleaded not guilty to killing Christopher Rhoden Sr., 40; his older brother, Kenneth Rhoden, 44; his cousin, Gary Rhoden, 38; his former wife, Dana Lynn Rhoden, 37, and their children: Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden, 20, Hanna May Rhoden, 19, Christopher Rhoden Jr., 16, and Frankie’s fiancé, Hannah “Hazel” Gilley, 20.
Most of the victims were found shot execution-style shortly before 8 a.m. on April 22, 2016, in three separate trailers on Union Hill Road. The eighth victim, Kenneth Rhoden, was found shot once in the head at his trailer some 6.5 miles away on Left Fork Road.
Wagner IV’s younger brother, Jake Wagner, and their mother, Angela Wagner, pleaded guilty for their roles in the killings last year.
Both are scheduled to testify against him in the coming weeks.
Days before the slayings, Angela Wagner, was seen on security camera footage buying shoes at the Walmart store in Waverly, according to prosecutors.
In her plea agreement, Angela Wagner 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.
Prosecutors have said that evidence was destroyed.
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 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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