Angela Wagner: ‘You never get away with it. You live with it.’
WAVERLY, Ohio (WXIX) - Angela Wagner’s second day of testimony included her telling the court that her son, George Wagner IV, offered to take the fall for the killings in the Pike County Massacre.
Earlier in the day, Special Prosecutor Angela Canepa asked the mother if she thought they could get away with the crime.
“Even if we were arrested or ended up in jail, my belief (is) you never get away with it. You live with it,” she responded.
Like her youngest son, Jake Wagner, who testified last week, Angela Wagner’s testimony occurred off camera at her request and the prosecutors.
On Tuesday, Angela Wagner, 52, told the jury that her entire family, husband Billy Wagner and sons George Wagner IV and Jake Wagner, all participated in the 2016 Pike County massacre.
They did it all to protect their son’s 2-year-old daughter, Sophia, from being molested, she claimed.
“Nobody’s heart was in it,” she said on the stand. “Nobody wanted to do it.”
Her eldest son, George Wagner IV, is the first member of the family to be tried in the execution-style killings of eight members of the Rhoden and Gilley families on April 21-22, 2016.
All four were charged with eight counts of aggravated murder and a slew of other charges. George Wagner IV and his father have pleaded not guilty and are fighting the charges.
George Wagner IV’s younger brother, Jake Wagner, and his mother pleaded guilty last year.
Both are testifying against him as part of their plea deals.
Jake Wagner took the stand for four days, calmly telling the jury in graphic detail how he personally shot and killed five of the victims and shot and wounded a sixth.
He implicated his father in the other murders and, while he confirmed his brother never fired a shot, he did say his brother extensively participated in the planning, preparation and cover-up.
On Wednesday, Angela Wagner said everyone in the family except her husband, Billy Wagner, wanted to move to Alaska after the slayings. Her husband didn’t want to leave because his father was ill.
His mother, Fredericka Wagner, “had a big crying episode and begged me not to take him to Alaska,” Angela Wagner recalled.
Both her husband’s father and her father would die while the family lived in Alaska from spring 2017 to spring 2018, she said on the stand.
“If I would have known my dad was as bad as he was, I wouldn’t have left,” she told the jury.
Life in Alaska didn’t turn out to be the quiet reprieve they’d hoped.
They were en route there when someone sent them a photo showing state agents conducting a search of their former Peebles home and property.
Angela Wagner said Wednesday she “worried that something was going to be found that shouldn’t be found.”
She asked her husband: “Is everything going to be OK?”
“Don’t worry,” he told her, “I got all the shell casings.”
As a group, they concocted an alibi to provide if questioned by law enforcement, Angela Wagner recalled.
They agreed they would say they had a family movie night and everyone came over.
Then Jake said he couldn’t remember which movie he was supposed to say they watched and his brother made fun of him.
State agents met them at the Montana border, separated them all, and interviewed them.
Angela Wagner told the jury she was “an emotional wreck” and “worried they were going to arrest George and Jake and take (their children/her grandchildren) Sophia and Bulvine.”
“I would cry every time they went out the door,” she said, referring to her husband and sons.
They covered the window and doors with sheets and curtains at the house they rented in Alaska.
“Calm down. Everything is going to be OK,” her husband reassured her, she testified.
Still, he warned her: “Whatever you do, don’t talk about it in the car.”
Then, state agents and the Ohio Attorney General’s Office released a flyer and news release calling the four Wagners “persons of interest” in the massacre.
“It was very scary, very nerve-racking,” she testified.
The state announced a reward of $10,000 for information leading to them.
She said she read on social media people were asking if that was for four Wagners “dead or alive.”
Custody and control over Jake Wagner’s daughter, Sophia, was the motive behind the slayings, prosecutors have said. Her mother, Hanna May Rhoden, 19, was one of the eight victims Jake Wagner said last week on the stand he shot in the head.
The young couple began dating when she was 13 and he was 15. By the time Hanna Rhoden was 15, she was pregnant with their daughter.
Angela Wagner said it was she, not Hanna Rhoden’s mother Dana Rhoden, who took the teen to the clinic - something that Angela Wagner noted upset Dana Rhoden.
She admitted to forging custody papers that would give Jake Wagner custody of Sophia if something happened to the then 2-year-old’s mother and custody to Angela Wagner if something happened to her son.
Jake Wagner, 28, said on the stand last week he grew “jealous” when the mother of his child moved on and began to see other men after they broke up.
Hanna May Rhoden had a second daughter, Kylie, with one man and was dating another at the time of her murder.
Jake Wagner testified he feared Sophia would be molested.
Angela Wagner also testified she feared Sophia would be sexually abused.
By 2016, Jake Wagner and Hanna May Rhoden were sharing custody of Sophia. The toddler spent one week with her father, the next week with her mother, and so on.
Angela Wagner said when Sophia would return to their home, her private areas were “red” and had “strong odors.”
During her week with the Wagners, the redness would subside, Angela Wagner claimed, and then return after Sophia returned to her mother.
Angela Wagner said she asked her husband, who had some business deal with Hanna Rhoden’s father (Sophia’s other grandfather) Chris Rhoden Sr., to monitor the situation at the Rhodens when he went over there.
Billy Wagner didn’t want to do that at first, she said.
Then she said she wanted to turn Chris Rhoden Sr. in for growing marijuana and other illegal activity she thought was going on at the Rhoden property.
Chris Rhoden Sr. was the one with the money and the influence over the Rhodens, making all the major decisions.
Angela Wagner said she figured her son would have more time and custody of his daughter with the family patriarch out of the picture.
But Billy Wagner vetoed that, telling her killing only Chris Rhoden Sr. was “not an option,” she said.
“We have to find some way to protect Sophia from all this,” Angela Wagner recalled telling her husband.
By January 2016, she said Billy Wagner came up with the plan to kill all the Rhodens.
Special Prosecutor Canepa asked Angela Wagner if it was ever considered to just kill Hanna Rhoden, not her entire family, too.
Yes, she responded, but her husband also ruled that out.
The Rhodens, she said he told her, would seek vengeance and kill their son Jake Wagner.
Did he persuade you that more than Hanna must be killed? Canepa asked.
“Yes,” Angela Wagner said.
She testified Tuesday she didn’t want to know the details of the murder plan. She also remained at home with George Wagner’s son, Bulvine, and Jake Wagner’s daughter.
She did confirm on the stand she bought several items to help her sons and husband carry out the deadly plot: Walmart athletic shoes her sons wore at the crime scenes, a cell phone jammer and a bug detector to check for listening devices.
Last week, Jake Wagner calmly explained in graphic detail how he and his family planned and carried out the shooting deaths of the mother of his child and seven of her relatives.
He said he shot Hanna May Rhoden in the head twice as she lay propped up in bed breastfeeding her 4-day-old daughter.
She fell off the bed, and he told the jury he picked her up and placed her back on the bed, positioning her so she could continue breastfeeding the newborn baby in case it took a while for the bodies to be discovered.
In all, Jake Wagner said on the stand he killed four other victims besides Hanna May Rhoden: Her mother, Dana Rhoden, 37; her brothers, Chris Rhoden Jr., 16, and Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden, 20, and Frankie Rhoden’s fiance, Hannah “Hazel” Gilley, 20; and shot a sixth victim, Hanna May Rhoden’s father, Christopher Rhoden Sr.
Jake Wagner implicated his father, Billy Wagner, in the killings of Chris Rhoden Sr., Rhodens’s cousin, Gary Rhoden, and Rhoden’s older brother, Kenneth Rhoden.
Jake Wagner told the jury his older brother didn’t shoot a single person or even fire his gun once.
But he said his brother actively participated in planning and covering up slayings.
George Wagner IV also was with him and his father the night of the killings and did nothing to stop them, according to his testimony.
Angela Wagner testified Wednesday that her son, George IV, told her he would be willing to take the sole responsibility for the murders.
George Wagner IV, 31, is the first member of his family to go on trial.
He and his father, Billy Wagner, 51, have both pleaded not guilty and are fighting all 22 charges including eight counts of aggravated murder.
The judge has refused to dismiss eight counts of aggravated murder against George Wagner IV even though the state also confirms he didn’t fire a shot.
Prosecutors say he can and should be convicted of the aggravated murder charges because he conspired with his family to kill the victims and actively participated in the planning and cover-up.
See a spelling or grammar error in our story? Please include the title when you click here to report it.
Copyright 2022 WXIX. All rights reserved.