Entire family took part in Pike County massacre, Angela Wagner tells jury: ‘Nobody’s heart was in it’
WAVERLY, Ohio (WXIX) - All four members of the Wagner family: Billy, his wife Angela and their sons, George and Jake - participated in the 2016 Pike County massacre, Angela Wagner told the jury Tuesday at her firstborn’s murder trial.
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 testimony will resume at 9 a.m. Wednesday.
George Wagner IV is the first member of his 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 last week, 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 Tuesday, their mother took the stand - with her ankle shackles clinking at times - and did the same thing.
“Are you guilty of the murders that occurred on Union Hill Road and Left Fork Road?” Special Prosecutor Angela Canepa asked Angela Wagner.
“Yes,” she responded.
“Help plan that?”
“Help prepare for it?”
“Helped afterward to cover it up?”
Like her youngest son, Jake Wagner, Angela Wagner’s testimony occurred off camera at her request and the prosecutors.
FOX19 NOW Reporters Mike Schell and Chancelor Winn were both in the courtroom listening to her testimony.
Don’t miss their live updates from Pike County with all the latest developments throughout the night on FOX19 NOW.
Angela Wagner did not look at her son as she took the stand or during her testimony.
George Wagner periodically glanced at his mother but his expression didn’t change, just like when his brother testified.
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 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 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.
At one point before the slaying, she said they bought a home surveillance system. Her youngest son installed the cameras on their roof while his brother and Angela Wagner helped.
When Billy Wagner returned home, he saw the cameras and told them it was “f------ stupid,’” Angela Wagner recalled on the stand Tuesday.
“That has to come down,” she said he told them. “They will see us coming and leaving.”
On the night of the slayings, April 21, 2016, she said her husband came to the house and told them: “We are going now.”
She said she was surprised it was happening: “I honestly did not think my husband would go through with it.”
There was some frustration and anxiety. Their sons weren’t putting their Walmart shoes on, they weren’t getting ready fast enough, she recalled.
Her husband instructed her to send text messages while they were gone from both their sons’ phones to their friend in Virginia so it appeared they were home while the Rhodens were killed.
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 her 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.
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.
In other testimony Tuesday, Angela Wagner implicated both of her sons and husband in other crimes she said the family committed like thefts and arson.
These are many of the same crimes Jake Wagner told the jury he grew up learning to commit.
Earlier Tuesday, Matt White, a gun expert with the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation, returned to the stand to pick up the testimony he began Monday afternoon.
He showed the jury and talked about parts of the broken murder weapons once Jake Wagner led investigators to their hiding spot.
Jake Wagner testified the guns were hidden in cement-filled buckets used to anchor a goose house in a lake Flying W Farms.
That’s one of many properties linked to the Wagner family that BCI agents searched as they worked to solve the state’s largest and most expensive murder case to date.
On Tuesday, White pointed to photos of the SKS rifle that Jake Wagner says his brother took to the killings but didn’t fire.
White pieced the weapons back together. He told the jury he was unable to fire the SKS once he did his best at reassembling it.
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.