Final Wagner murder trial expected next year

Billy Wagner listens to one of his defense attorneys in Pike County Common Pleas Court.
Billy Wagner listens to one of his defense attorneys in Pike County Common Pleas Court.
Published: Dec. 2, 2022 at 6:07 AM EST
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WAVERLY, Ohio (WXIX) - And then there was one.

The conviction this week of George Wagner IV on all 22 counts against him in the Pike County massacre leaves his father in a very distinct minority.

Billy Wagner, 51, is now the lone family member who continues to maintain his innocence in the April 2016 execution-style killings of eight members of the Rhoden and Gilley families.

Like his two sons and wife, Billy Wagner was charged with 22 total counts: eight for aggravated murder and 14 other charges related to the homicides.

They are conspiracy to commit aggravated murder, four counts of aggravated burglary, three counts of tampering with evidence, one count each of forgery, unauthorized use of property, interception of wire, oral or electronic communications, obstructing justice and engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity.

Billy’s trial was set earlier this year for Oct. 3 but was postponed in August.

A new trial date is not yet scheduled.

It’s also not clear if the judge who oversaw all the Wagners’ court proceedings so far will preside over Billy’s trial.

Pike County Common Pleas Court Judge Randy Deering is retiring early next year.

Last month, Pike County Prosecutor Rob Junk was elected to his seat.

Junk won’t be the judge at Billy’s trial because he has an obvious conflict of interest as one of the prosecutors in the massacre case and all of the other Wagners’ court proceedings so far.

Retiring judges, as Deering will soon be, are appointed by the Ohio Supreme Court’s chief justice to oversee criminal trials when the sitting judge is unable to preside.

Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice-Elect Sharon Kennedy will become the second woman to serve as chief justice on Jan. 1, 2023.

Kennedy, a former Hamilton police officer in Butler County, is expected to appoint a visiting judge for Billy’s trial once a date is set sooner rather than later.

She came to the Supreme Court from the Butler County Court of Common Pleas, Domestic Relations Division, where, as the administrative judge, she made timely resolution of cases a priority.

For now, Billy remains locked up without bond at the Butler County Jail in the city of Hamilton, some two hours west of Pike County.

Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones says they’ve had no issues with Billy since he arrived more than four years ago following his November 2018 indictment and arrest.

When Billy does go on trial, it’s expected he will be moved to the Scioto County Jail, as his eldest son was from the Montgomery County Jail, due to its closer proximity to the Pike County Courthouse in Waverly.

George Wagner IV remains at the Scioto County Jail as of Friday morning as he awaits sentencing.

Judge Deering didn’t automatically sentence George when the jury convicted him Wednesday.

The judge wants to make sure the victims’ families have time to plan to attend a sentencing hearing for the opportunity to address the now-convicted murderer.

His father, meanwhile, is not in solitary confinement, on suicide watch, or under other special restrictions in light of his son’s trial or conviction, according to Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones.

Billy Wagner is permitted to watch television like all the other inmates since he arrived at the jail, including during the trial, so for all we know he could have kept up with daily news reports.

The sheriff said he didn’t know if Billy Wagner watched trial coverage because he hasn’t asked him about anything related to his criminal case.

“When he first came to the jail he had some issues,” Sheriff Jones tells FOX19 NOW.

“He requested to be isolated from the other prisoners. He never had much experience, I assume, of being in jail. Because of the notoriety of the case, he requested to be isolated in protective control.”

Any inmate can ask for this, the sheriff stressed.

”I’ve seen him in the jail in the four-year period he’s been here and I’ve had conversations with him briefly. I had a conversation with him two, three weeks ago in his cell block and he was talking with other prisoners.

“I asked him ‘what’s going on?’ and replied with ‘not much’ and I laughed at his answer. He seemed fine. Then I stopped the conversation and went to another cell block.

”He is no different than any other prisoner we have in our jail with charges of murder. We’ve had no issues with him at this point,” said the sheriff, who began his law enforcement career as a correction officer nearly 50 years ago.

“I’ve been around these types of prisoners for years and he’s right where he needs to be right now, incarcerated.“

And,” Jones adds, “he should get used to it. He’s not been to trial yet but in all likelihood, he’ll never see the daylight of day. If he ever gets out of prison, his parole officer hasn’t even been born yet.”

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