Defense calls former friend of George Wagner IV to testify as jury returns

Pike County: Jury returns for testimony after morning of debate on evidence
Published: Nov. 15, 2022 at 8:34 AM EST|Updated: Nov. 15, 2022 at 12:24 PM EST
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WAVERLY, Ohio (WXIX) - After a day and a half hearings on evidence, jurors returned to the courtroom in George Wagner IV’s murder trial in the 2016 Pike County massacre as the defense called an old friend of George’s to the stand.

Bernie Brown, an Adams County livestock hauler in his 70′s, allowed the Wagners to store their belongings in trailers on his property.

When Brown came down with cancer in 2014, he said of George IV and his brother, Jake Wagner, were both there for him.

“Them boys there kind of took over and helped me out,” Brown said.

He was asked by George IV’s defense attorney to describe his personality while they were on the road hauling cattle together. Brown said they got along.

“Alright. He wasn’t hostile or anything like that,” Brown said. “We got along real good.”

When State Prosecutor Angela Canepa questioned Brown about the Wagner boys, he said: “All the time that I’ve known them, I never heard as much as a curse word out of them.”

Prior to Brown’s testimony, the attorneys on both sides continued to argue what items of evidence the jury should be allowed to see during deliberations.

The trial is in its tenth week and prosecutors are ready to rest their case.

But first, they must officially enter their evidence into the court record.

A hearing resumed Tuesday to decide which exhibits - crime scene photos, statements, confessions, wiretap recordings - will be officially entered into the court record as evidence.

The number of exhibits so far has been tremendous. More than 1,000 photos and other evidence were presented to the jury over the past nine weeks.

Pike County Common Pleas Court Judge Randy Deering is allowing a photo showing dogs in the backyard of Frankie Rhoden’s home where the bodies were discovered but is tossing out a photo showing a truck in one photo that had a knife lying on the tailgate.

Judge Deering said that the potential weapon had no bearing on the case.

Pike County massacre: Complete trial coverage

Wagner IV, 31; his younger brother, Jake Wagner, 28 and their parents: Billy Wagner, 51, and Angela Wagner, 52, were all indicted in November 2018 in the biggest and most expensive murder case and prosecution to date.

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.

George Wagner IV is the first member of his family of four to go on trial.

Angela Wagner and Jake Wagner 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 and his father 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.

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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