Prosecution to rest its case Monday in George Wagner IV’s murder trial
WAVERLY, Ohio (WXIX) - The prosecution is done questioning witnesses and will rest its case on Nov. 13 in George Wagner IV’s murder trial for the 2016 Pike County massacre.
There will be no court Friday due to the Veterans Day holiday.
Earlier Thursday, a blood pattern analysis expert for the defense, Jonathyn Priest, testified.
The jury also heard more secret recordings of the Wagner family from May-August 2018, before they were indicted and arrested in November 2018.
Four members of the Wagner family: George Wagner IV, 31; his younger brother, Jake Wagner, 28 and their parents: Billy Wagner, 51, and Angela Wagner, 52, faced eight counts of aggravated murder and several other charges.
They are accused of killing eight members of the Rhoden and Gilley families in four separate trailers on April 21-22, 2016 in Piketon: 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 Gilley, 20.
The motive in the slayings was the custody and control of the 2-year-old daughter of Jake Wagner and one of the victims, Hanna May Rhoden, 19, prosecutors say.
Wagner IV, 30, is the first member of his family of four to go on trial.
Angela Wagner, 52, and Jake Wagner, 28, both testified recently against him as part of their plea deals with the state. They admitted their roles in the slayings last year.
George Wagner, 31, and his father, Billy Wagner, 51, have pleaded not guilty and continue to fight the charges.
Billy Wagner’s trial is expected to be held in Pike County next year.
Jake Wagner and Angela Wagner both told the jury the entire family participated in the massacre.
Jake Wagner calmly recounted in graphic detail how he killed five of the eight victims, including the mother of his child, and shot and wounded a sixth.
He implicated his father in killing three of the victims and confirmed on the stand his brother George killed no one, shot no one and, in fact, never once fired his gun.
Priest, a 32-year law enforcement veteran who is a retired lieutenant commander of the Major Crimes Section at the Denver Police Department, testified in a way that clashed with part of Jake Wagner’s recent testimony as well as the statement he gave investigators when he confessed.
Jake Wagner told the jury he watched his father enter Kenneth Rhoden’s trailer, saw a gun muzzle flash, and then his father came back out.
Kenneth Rhoden was shot once in one of his eyes, prosecutors have said.
Priest said he wouldn’t be able to see the muzzle flash from behind a pickup truck, as Jake was the night of the slayings.
As he testified, the defense played three videos showing a gun being fired to demonstrate.
A flash was visible in the third video, the one taken after dark, but Priest testified he still wouldn’t be able to see it at night, especially through the trailer window with blinds in that window and a light on inside.
The defense also asked Priest how many shooters could have entered the home of Chris Rhoden Sr. and killed him and his cousin Gary.
“While I can’t eliminate multiple offenders completely multiple offenders, a single individual could have done everything we see at that scene,” he said on the stand.
His reasoning was that items on a chair weren’t disturbed in a narrow path from the living room to the bedroom where the bodies were found.
“There’s limited spacing there and it would be very difficult, well it would be impossible to go through that location with two people side-by-side dragging an individual,” according to Priest.
George Wagner’s attorneys unsuccessfully tried to have the murder charges thrown out against their client earlier this year before the trial started.
His brother and mother’s confessions prove he didn’t kill or even shoot anyone, they argued in court records and in person before the judge, but Deering refused to dismiss the charges.
The judge sided with the state, who contends George Wagner should be convicted of the murder charges because he actively participated in the planning, preparation and cover-up of the massacre.
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