Rhodens show resilience, resolve in aftermath of George Wagner IV verdict
‘We still have a long way to go.’
WAVERLY, Ohio (WXIX) - The surviving members of the Rhoden family embraced in the courtroom Wednesday after the jury found George Wagner IV guilty of murdering their late loved ones.
Moments later, they emerged from the courthouse under the calming aegis of that verdict, saying it afforded them a little bit of peace.
“We still have a long road to go,” said Tony Rhoden Sr. “We’ll get there because we are a family.”
The jury found George, 31, guilty of all 22 counts against him, including eight counts of aggravated murder. He listened to the verdict seated at the defense table, his face downcast and expressionless.
“They were human beings,” Tony said of the slain Rhodens. “They’re gone. Nothing we can do on this earth will ever bring them back.”
The path George traced out of the courtroom took him just feet from the Rhoden family, including matriarch Geneva Rhoden, who shed tears as they held each other in joy and relief. George did not acknowledge them, and they did not appear to acknowledge him.
“That’s the rock,” Tony said of Geneva. “That’s the one that got us this far.”
Outside the courthouse, Tony spoke with welled eyes and a firm, stoical demeanor. He commended the prosecutors and thanked the jury. “It’s a tough burden,” he said. “None of us can say what they dealt with. It’s a tough burden.”
It’s praise that went around. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said the Rhoden family “never gave up and never lost faith.”
“I don’t believe that in a tragedy like this there is anything such as closure, but the Rhoden and Gilley families can take some comfort in knowing that George Wagner has been convicted, and he will be punished, as will his brother, Jake, and mother, Angela,” the governor wrote in a tweet.
Special Prosecutor Andrew Wilson acknowledged nobody can imagine “the pain and suffering” the Rhodens endured. Then he said of them, “And you handled yourselves with grace, and you handled yourselves with dignity, and you handled yourselves with restraint, and I will forever be amazed at your ability to do that.
Maj. Al Lewis, lead investigator with the Pike County Sheriff’s Office, grew emotional thanking the Rhodens. “I can’t stress this enough, your support, when we were low, you guys got us through.”
Added Special Prosecutor Angela Canepa, “They don’t back down. They aren’t going away.” She also praised the Rhodens’ uncommon grace and dignity. “It’s true about each one of them,” she said, “and it’s such an impressive, impressive thing.”
Speaking of the case, Tony remarked George’s apology mid-trial fell on deaf ears. He had difficulty responding when asked about his feelings on the death penalty being taken off the table: ”That’s a tough one. I can’t answer that.”
Tony called George’s actions inhuman and said the murders never would have happened if George really loved his own child.
But Tony, drawing on reserves for which he credited Geneva, also struck an empathic tone.
“We are glad that it came back,” he said of the verdict. “But you have to realize, George Wagner is human. He just didn’t show it on that night.”
Time and again, Tony returned to the theme of belief as a necessary foothold during this six-year investigation.
“You have to believe in somebody. You know, if you don’t believe in the people that are trying to prosecute this... You have to believe in somebody,” he said.
Of the verdict, he mused, “There is a judge and jury on this earth, but there is also a God, and you’ve got to believe in somebody.”
And of the lengthy investigation: “It’s like, if you would go rabbit hunting, sometimes a rabbit will run in a hole and then jump back out and run again, and that’s what the investigators were doing. So, it was very frustrating. But you have to believe.”
Do the slain Rhodens have peace now? “Not yet,” Tony replied. “We’re one step closer.”
The trial for Billy Wagner, George’s father, who is also implicated in the murders, is expected to begin next year.
As for the surviving Rhodens, Tony said he looks forward to the family being left alone and enjoying the holidays.
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