Pike County massacre trial: State and defense rest
WAVERLY, Ohio (WXIX) - The state and defense have rested their cases in George Wagner IV’s murder trial for the 2016 Pike County massacre.
The trial is now in its tenth week. It will be in recess next week due to the Thanksgiving holiday.
The jury will return to the courtroom on Nov. 28 with the expectation they will hear closing arguments.
Jurors will then get instructions from the judge and possibly begin deliberations the following day.
A hearing Thursday morning was required to determine which trial exhibits will be officially entered into the court record as evidence.
The number of trial exhibits amassed by prosecutors and investigators in the 2016 Pike County massacre is enormous.
The state presented more than 1,000 exhibits to the jury since the trial began more than two months ago.
The exhibits include autopsy reports, crime scene photos, wiretap recordings, receipts, gun parts recovered from a bucket of cement submerged in a lake, and even floorboards of the victims’ trailers.
The defense is allowed to object to any exhibit and then the judge hears arguments for and against it being submitted as evidence.
George’s defense team objected to his family’s financial records being admitted, but State Prosecutor Angie Canepa argued the foundation of the state’s case is that he and his brother Jake Wagner were taught to operate as one single unit when it came to decision-making and spending the family’s money.
“[Their parents] were teaching them to be criminals from their youth, so these records just establish the length of that,” Canepa argued. “The length, the duration of that criminal enterprise.”
Anything that the judge does not approve can’t be considered by the jury.
George Wagner IV, his mother, Angela Wagner, father Billy Wagner and brother Jake Wagner, were all indicted in November 2018 for the April 21-22 shooting deaths of eight members of the Rhoden and Gilley families.
In a surprise move earlier this week, Wagner IV, 31, took the stand in his own defense and testified Wednesday and Thursday.
He insisted he is not guilty of any of the murders. George testified his family never approached him about the murder plot and he was asleep the night of the slayings.
Had he known, he claimed he would have stopped them.
“I don’t know how, but I would have never let it happen,” he told the jury on Wednesday.
George insisted under cross-examination on Thursday his mother and brother lied during their testimony earlier in the trial as well as their 2021 confessions to prosecutors.
At one point, Special Prosecutor Angela Canepa sarcastically told him: “Everybody is lying except you.”
She succeeded in getting several admissions from George on the stand such as:
- He used an inaccurate (former) address to obtain his Ohio commercial driver’s license;
- He listed an inaccurate (former) address on forms related to his gun ownership, a federal offense punishable by up to 10 years in prison. He told her he was advised to do this because his driver’s license still listed his former address);
- He responded “We paid off our debts with it” when she asked him about a purposely set fire (arson) at one of the Wagner’s former homes, on Bethel Hill Road in Peebles. At first, George told her he didn’t really profit from it (the insurance payout);
- He failed to report his mother for creating fake receipts to turn in these bogus fire loss claims;
- Hunting at night “thousands of times.” Deer hunting hours in Ohio are 30 minutes before sunrise to 30 minutes after sunset, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources;
- Calling his toddler niece (Jake Wagner’s daughter Sophie) a “b----.” But, George explained on the stand: “After five or six days on caffeine, you say a lot of things you don’t mean.”;
- Failing to notify the mother of his young child know they moved back to Pike County from Alaska in 2018 before the waiting period was up to get an abandonment ruling against her.
Canepa also exposed differences between George’s testimony Wednesday and what he told state law enforcement agents during a 2017 interview.
He told them he went to bed the night of the slayings at 12:30 a.m. after watching a “fairy movie” with his entire family and his mother making cheeseburgers.
During his testimony this week, he said he went to bed at 10:30 p.m.
Canepa also wanted to know how his brother and father could have been “up on Union Hill Road” where the victims lived, killing them less than an hour after he claimed on the stand everybody went to bed the night of the slayings.
“I don’t have an answer for that,” he responded. “I don’t know.”
George is facing eight counts of aggravated murder, aggravated burglary, tampering with evidence, forgery and obstruction of justice. He is also facing conspiracy charges.
His attorneys are hoping at the very least, he is found not found guilty of murder.
The conspiracy charges could carry a life sentence but there would still be a possibility that one day, George could walk out of prison on parole.
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