Pike County trial: Jury hears about Wagner finances, purchases, evidence divers found in pond
WARNING - Trial coverage could contain graphic images or language
WAVERLY, Ohio (WXIX) - Jurors heard extensive details Wednesday about the Wagner family’s finances and purchases in the months leading up to the Pike County massacre as George Wagner IV’s murder trial continues.
Jurors also got their first look at a key piece of evidence that state law enforcement agents testified was found during a search of property linked to the Wagners.
When former Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation Agent Bryan White took the stand, he held up part of a modified flashlight.
George Wagner IV’s brother, Jake Wagner, has told authorities it was made into a gun silencer. Divers found it in a pond when BCI searched property connected to the Wagner family.
George Wagner IV’s brother and mother, Angela Wagner, have pleaded guilty to their roles in the shooting deaths of eight members of the Rhoden and Gilley families.
Both are expected to testify against him soon.
In other testimony Wednesdasy, BCI’s forensic accountant, Michael Kaizar, testified about his analysis of multiple Wagner financial accounts and purchases in the months leading up to the Pike County massacre.
He told jurors he reviewed hundreds and hundreds pages of bank statements for some accounts, as well as dozens of purchases on them including an “enormous” receipt from Amazon.
Kaizar said BCI investigators asked him to keep a lookout for any suspicious items and to flag any tools, equipment, and other items purchased that could be used to make a gun silencer or suppressor. He told jurors he found purchases on George Wagner’s accounts for ammunition and a magazine (to hold bullets, not to read) and flashlights and drill bits on one of Jake Wagner’s cards that could be used to make a suppressor.
Kaizar testified he noticed frequent transfers between different accounts among the Wagners over 3.5 years that totaled more than $100,000, suggesting paralells to what he often sees in a criminal organization.
Frequent transfers of money, sharing of funds and expenses show that even though accounts may be in separate names, ‘what you might see is that maybe they are working as a coordinated group.’
On Wednesday, one of Wagner’s attorneys, Richard Nash, suggested George Wagner could have purchased the air filter on his account for the pickup truck that also was purchased on another account.
Accounts in the names of George Wagner IV and his brother, Jake Wagner, paid for household essentials including groceries and monthly utility bills, Kaizar told jurors Wednesday.
George Wagner’s accounts show several loans taken out for vehicles.
Of particular interest to the prosecution was a Wagner purchase at a Bass Pro Shops in Cincinnati less than a month before eight members of the Rhoden family were found shot to death in their homes on Union Hill and Left Fork Roads.
“There were two items of interest associated with that purchase,” said Kaizar. “The first was ammunition and the second was a magazine.”
The prosecution said the ammo and magazine fit one of the murder weapons used to kill the Rhodens.
Nash questioned Kaizar about the purchases he was instructed to look for.
Nash: “Just because you found something that seemed important to you, you’re not saying that’s actual evidence in this case, right? It’s evidence in the case but it may or may not be relevant, right, does that makes sense?
Kaizar: “Uh, yes.”
Nash: “So, I think we’re in agreement on this.”
George Wagner IV is the first member of his family to go on trial in the slayings, which happened in Piketon, a rural community of 2,139 residents located about 95 miles east of Downtown Cincinnati.
The trial began last month and is expected to last until about mid-November.
Wagner IV has pleaded not guilty to helping his family with the slayings.
His 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 Wagner’s father, Billy Wagner, also continues to fight his charges. He is scheduled to go on trial next year.
Earlier this week, jurors heard recordings of the voices of at least two of the victims.
These recordings are from the laptop backup of a cell phone Jake Wagner used when he dropped off or picked up his then-2-year-old daughter, Sophia, from her mother, Hanna May Rhoden, 19.
Jake Wagner and Hanna May Rhoden began dating when she was 13 and she was pregnant by the time she was 15. The couple broke up by December 2015, when she told him she planned to move in with her new boyfriend.
At the time, she also was pregnant with another man’s child, according to prior testimony, a child that Jake Wagner initially thought was his.
Prosecutors say the custody and control of the former couple’s child is the motive in what has become Ohio’s largest and most expensive homicide investigation to date.
Besides Hanna May Rhoden, 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.
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