Pike County massacre trial: Jury requests transcript of Jake Wagner’s testimony
WAVERLY, Ohio (WXIX) - Jury deliberations have been underway for nearly four hours in the murder trial of George Wagner IV.
Just before lunchtime, jurors asked for a transcript of Jake Wagner’s testimony against his brother - and then decided against it.
The judge called them into court and told them it was 764 pages, there were no copies made yet and there were concerns they wanted it.
Before the jury came into the courtroom, Special Prosecutor Angela Canepa objected to their request for the transcript.
She argued it’s not common practice to provide these to juries and they might put too much emphasis on a particular paragraph.
Pike County Prosecutor Rob Junk said a transcript of Jake’s four-day testimony and cross-examination wasn’t even printed yet. He told the judge they could print a copy in his office and have it ready in about 30 minutes.
Defense attorney John Parker supported the jury’s request for the transcript, saying they should have an accurate assessment of Jake’s testimony.
Judge Deering seemed inclined to give it to the jury because he had them brought into the courtroom so he could caution them about using it.
“You are entitled to every piece of evidence you want to see,” he told jurors after they decided against the transcript.
They are deliberating once again in a conference room on the first floor of the courthouse in Waverly, which is about two hours east of Downtown Cincinnati.
Earlier Wednesday, prosecutors and a court administrator were seen taking boxes of trial evidence (exhibits) downstairs to the jury. They did not say in open court what exhibits jurors asked for but they carried posterboards of floorplans of the crime scenes and aerial maps.
If Wagner IV, 31, is found guilty of any of the charges, he likely will not be immediately sentenced, FOX19 NOW has confirmed.
Victims’ families are permitted to address convicted people at sentencing hearings. Judge Deering likely will want to give the relatives time for that opportunity.
Wagner IV is accused of planning and covering up eight murders with his family overnight on April 21-22, 2016 in rural Piketon.
He is the first one to be tried since the killings occurred more than six years ago.
Wagner IV faces 22 charges including eight charges of aggravated murder in the execution-style shootings of eight members of the Rhoden and Gilley families. All but two of them were shot in the head as they lay in bed. Some were asleep.
The victims are Christopher Rhoden Sr., 40; his older brother, Kenneth Rhoden, 44; his cousin, Gary Rhoden, 38; Chris Rhoden Sr.’s 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 “Hazel” Gilley, 20.
Two infants and a toddler were spared by the killers and left behind at the murder scenes: a 5-day-old baby girl, a 6-month-old baby boy and a 3-year-old boy.
Wagner IV, 31, could spend the rest of his life behind bars if he is convicted.
The death penalty is off the table after his brother, Jake Wagner and his mother, Angela Wagner, both testified against him for the state.
Both pleaded guilty to their roles in the slayings last year.
Prosecutors say the motive in the murders is the custody of the young daughter of one of the confessed killers, Jake Wagner and one of the victims he confessed to shooting in the head twice, Hanna May Rhoden.
The young couple began dating when she was 13 and he was 18. She became pregnant at 15 with Sophia.
They broke up after their daughter was born.
Hanna May Rhoden, who had moved on to have a second daughter with another man at the time of her death, had refused to sign custody of Sophia over to Jake Wagner, prosecutors say. So the Wagner family carefully planned the murders and killed her family and anyone else there who could be a witness.
The brutal murders are considered the state’s largest and most expensive homicide case to date and its prosecution has been voluminous. Estimates from state and local officials place the costs so far at nearly $4 million, all funded by the state of Ohio.
Some 60 witnesses testified over three months (50 for the state, 10 for the defense) as prosecutors and the defense presented thousands of pieces of evidence. Evidence stickers started at “A” and ended with “MMMM.” Court records show more than 110 motions were filed by attorneys on both sides.
The jury is “probably” the longest-serving one in any criminal case in Ohio, according to Special Prosecutor Canepa.
She put on a four-and-a-half hour closing argument on Monday, saying George lied when he testified in his own defense earlier this month and denied all involvement in the massacre.
Two of the four people who say they are responsible for the slayings, Jake Wagner and Angela Wagner testified truthfully when they took the stand, Canepa told the jury.
Jurors should listen to Jake Wagner and Angela Wagner now as they decide George Wagner’s fate, Canepa said.
“The family has spoken,” she told jurors Monday. “Jake and Angela have told you everything this defendant did that night.”
Both the state and defense agree he didn’t shoot or kill anyone, but that’s where the similarities end.
Prosecutors have repeatedly argued George is complicit in the killings even though he didn’t actually shoot anyone. They say he is still eligible for aggravated murder convictions and should be convicted because he actively participated in the planning and covering up of the killings
George may not have pulled the trigger but “you better believe that he is up to his eyeballs in this with his family,” Special Prosecutor Andy Wilson told jurors in rebuttal to the defense’s closing argument Tuesday.
Anyone who aids, abets and assists someone who commits murder can also be charged with murder, Wilson stressed.
George Wagner IV’s defense attorney said in his closing argument prosecutors simply don’t have enough evidence against George.
Parker lost a request to the judge last week for George’s acquittal due to a lack of evidence.
Nevertheless, on Tuesday he repeatedly rejected what he called the case’s fatal flaw: the prosecution’s contention that the motive in the murders was control and custody of George’s niece, Sophia, the daughter of his brother, Jake Wagner, and one of the five victims Jake confessed to killing, Hanna May Rhoden.
‘The state has this theory that they have presented ad nauseam that this is about custody,” he said, dismissing that as “making no sense.
“Have you ever heard of such a thing? No,” he told the jury. “People don’t kill each other over custody. We have a whole court system to deal with custody. Quite frankly, I don’t think anybody will ever believe this is about custody.”
George Wagner IV, his brother Jake Wagner, 28, and their parents Angela Wagner, 52, and Billy Wagner, 51, were all indicted on capital murder charges in November 2018.
George is the first one to go on trial.
George’s father, Billy Wagner, 51, is continuing to fight the charges and will be tried next year.
He has been held at the Butler County Jail now for more than four years.
Jail officials tell FOX19 NOW they have not curtailed his television-watching privileges so he could be watching news coverage of the trial.
Billy is charged with eight counts of aggravated murder, four counts of aggravated burglary, three counts of tampering with evidence, two counts of unlawful possession of dangerous ordnance and single counts of conspiracy, forgery, unauthorized use of computer or telecommunications, interception of wire, oral or electronic communication, obstructing justice and engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity.
He still faces the death penalty, which has not been carried out in Ohio in more than four years and it’s been on hold for nearly two years because there aren’t enough lethal injection drugs available.
Legislation is now proposed in both the House and Senate to abolish the death penalty in Ohio.
Like his father, George Wagner IV has pleaded not guilty.
Parker says George was not even there on the night of the slayings.
He spent a large amount of time on Tuesday attacking the character of Jake Wagner and Angela Wagner and their testimonies.
Parker called parts of Jake’s testimony “Fantasy. This is part of Jake’s fantasy.”
He said the true motive of the killings was not custody of Sophia but abuse concerns both Jake and Angela had about the then-2-year-old while she was in the care of her mother.
Parker claimed Jake Wagner killed all eight of the victims, not just the five he confessed and testified to.
It was Jake, not his father, according to Parker, who killed Chris Rhoden Sr., Gary Rhoden and Kenneth Rhoden along with the other five Jake admitted to shooting to death (Hanna Rhoden, her mother Dana Rhoden, her brothers Chris Rhoden Jr and Frankie Rhoden and Frankie Rhoden’s fiancee, Hanna “Hazel” Gilley).
Parker then told the jury the two brothers were very different. George preferred to be hunting and spending time with his son, Parker said, holding up photos.
Jake, on the other hand, “is a very disturbed young man,” Parker said.
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 testified.
Under cross-examination, George said his mother and brother both lied during their testimony and their 2021 confessions to prosecutors.
Parker told the jury it was hard for George to testify given his background.
He testified that he was raised to mistrust law enforcement, homeschooled by his mother only until his early teens, taught as a child by his father to commit crimes like arson and robbery and married his now-ex-wife when they were both very young.
George repeatedly fled the family home only to return, he “didn’t have the fortitude” to break free, his attorney claims.
George “broke every rule his father taught him by getting up here and telling the truth. He did it for himself quite obviously but he did it for his son. Jake and Angela have destroyed this man’s life - and his son’s life,” his attorney said.
Parker ended his closing argument by reminding the jury George was not even at the crime scenes but, if they believe he was, they have to remember he had no intent to kill and was only there to protect Jake from their father.
That statement “absolutely destroyed” the credibility of the defense’s case, Wilson said in rebuttal.
“You can’t have it both ways. The truth is either one or the other - you can’t argue both.”
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