Jury gets another look at key piece of evidence in Pike County massacre case: Walmart shoes
WARNING - Trial coverage could contain graphic images or language
WAVERLY, Ohio (WXIX) - Jurors got another look Tuesday at a key piece of evidence in Ohio’s largest and most expensive homicide case: Walmart shoes that cost $13.97.
The two pairs of gray men’s shoes - sizes 10.5 and 11 wide - were shown again in court as the fifth week of George Wagner IV’s murder trial gets underway in the 2016 Pike County massacre.
Impressions from these ordinary athletic shoes were found at all four slaying scenes, according to previous testimony.
George Wagner IV’s mother, Angela Wagner, admitted last year to buying that brand of shoes for her two sons at the Walmart store in Waverly when she pleaded guilty to her role in the slayings of eight members of the Rhoden and Gilley families,
Agents with the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) have said they have surveillance video of her purchasing the shoes just days before the murders.
Some of those agents returned to the stand Tuesday morning to continue discussing all the evidence, including now these shoes, that they collected from properties belonging to the Wagner family in May 2017.
George Wagner IV, 31, is the first member of his family to go on trial. Besides his mother, his older brother, Jake Wagner, also has pleaded guilty. He admitted to fatally shooting five of the victims and shooting a sixth.
Prosecutors say the Wagners killed the Rhoden family to gain custody of 2-year-old Sophia, the daughter of Jake Wagner, 28, and Hanna May Rhoden, 19.
The couple had broken up and Hanna May Rhoden had moved on with other men, including one who fathered her newborn baby just days before she was killed along with her relatives overnight April 21-22, 2016.
The other victims are her father, Christopher Rhoden Sr., 40; two of her uncles, Kenneth Rhoden, 44 and Gary Rhoden, 38; her mother, Dana Lynn Rhoden, 37, and both of her brothers: Christopher Rhoden Jr., 16 and Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden, 20, as well as Frankie’s fiancé, Hannah “Hazel” Gilley, 20.
Last week, BCI agents told jurors about the searches and evidence - including hundreds of gun shell casings fired by the same weapon used in some of the killings - they collected at the family’s Peterson Road home in Peebles and in some trucks and trailers they used for storage nearby off State Route 41.
The Wagners left trailers and trucks full of items after they sold their home in late spring 2017 and moved to Alaska for about a year. They returned to Pike County in the spring of 2018 and were indicted six months later, in November of that year.
BCI also searched the 1,000-acre plus acre Flying W Farms on Camp Creek Road in Lucasville owned by Billy Wagner’s parents, Fredericka Wagner and her late husband, George Wagner Jr.
The first search was in 2017 and the second one was in 2019.
Retired BCI Agent Bryan White showed jurors several photographs he took of the property the day of the search. Some of the photos revealed Tuesday morning depicted 9 mm shell casings.
Initially, Billy Wagner’s mother, Fredericka Wagner, also was charged in connection with Ohio’s largest and most expensive homicide case.
Prosecutors initially accused her of lying during 2018 grand jury testimony about where she bought two bulletproof vests in 2016 (she bought them on eBay).
The obstruction and perjury charges were dismissed against her in March 2019.
BCI Agent Perry Roeser was questioned about some weapons found on the Flying W Farm property of Fredericka Wagner, Billy’s mother.
Agent Roeser said the guns and ammunition were found in one particular bedroom in the home but the prosecution did not identify who slept there.
As part of his plea of guilty last year, Jake led agents to the murder weapons.
The attorneys for his brother argued that these other guns are insignificant.
“Once they get Jake’s statements and once they lead them to the murder weapons, that makes this type of evidence irrelevant,” Attorney John Parkers stated Tuesday. “Maybe without Jake providing the guns, maybe [prosecutors] could make the argument these could be the murder weapons, but that argument is gone.”
Judge Deering overruled Parkers’ argument but did tell the jury that the guns cannot be considered evidence of bad character of George IV or his family.
The judge further explained, “or that the defendant or any member of his family has a propensity to commit crimes because of the presence of firearms recovered there as a result of the search.”
The trial, which began last month, is expected to run into November.
Both Jake Wagner and Angela Wagner, 52, are scheduled to testify soon for the prosecution against George Wagner IV, who has pleaded not guilty like his father, Billy, 51.
Jake’s ex-wife, Beth, also will take the stand at some point.
George’s attorneys say he didn’t kill anybody and only learned of the murders when his brother got a phone call about them the next day.
George’s defense objected repeatedly to more gun and ballistics evidence introduced Tuesday, to no avail.
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