Billy Wagner returns to court with new judge in Pike County murder trial
WAVERLY, Ohio (WXIX) - The final Wagner family member left to stand trial in the 2016 Pike County massacre case will return to court Wednesday.
This will be the first proceeding in the murder case against George “Billy” Wagner with a new judge.
He has pleaded not guilty and remains locked up without a bond at the Butler County Jail, where he has been held since he was arrested more than four years ago.
His attorneys are Mark Collins and Tom Hayes.
Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Sharon Kennedy selected retired Brown County Common Pleas Court Judge R. Alan Corbin last month.
Corbin, also a former prosecutor, will preside over a status hearing.
The judge is expected to begin issuing orders soon on several pending motions.
One is a defense request for a change of venue to move Wagner’s trial out of Pike County.
His eldest son was convicted after a months-long jury trial late last year for his role in the slayings of eight members of the Rhoden and Gilley families.
George Wagner IV insisted he was innocent but was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole on all eight aggravated murder charges and 14 related counts including burglary.
The life sentences will run consecutively for the 31-year-old also sentenced to 121 years in prison on the other charges.
Now his father faces a similar fate if convicted on the same 22 charges.
The former Pike County judge, Randy Deering, recently stepped down after surpassing the mandatory retirement age.
Pike County Prosecutor Rob Junk was elected to the seat last fall.
Junk, however, cannot oversee Billy Wagner’s trial due to a conflict of interest.
Junk served as one of the prosecutors on the massacre case with Special Prosecutor Angela Canepa since day one.
Canepa has been appointed special prosecutor again in Billy’s trial.
Pike County massacre: Complete trial coverage
The other two Wagners charged in the case, Billy’s wife, Angela Wagner, 52, and their youngest son, Jake Wagner, 28, already pleaded guilty in 2021 to their roles in the slayings.
As part of Jake Wagner’s deal with prosecutors, the death penalty is off the table for all four Wagners.
Mother and son both against George Wagner IV during his trial and are expected to take the stand once again at Billy Wagner’s trial.
Gov. Mike DeWine called George Wagner IV’s three-month-long trial “one of the longest, if not the longest, trials in Ohio history.”
The Pike County massacre also is the state’s largest homicide investigation to date.
So far, it has cost taxpayers about $4 million, according to state and local officials.
The victims of the massacre were 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.
Prosecutors said the motive in the murders was the custody of the young daughter of Jake Wagner one of the victims he confessed to shooting twice in the head, Hanna May Rhoden.
He also testified on the stand that he killed her mother, Dana Rhoden, both of her brothers, Christopher Rhoden Jr. and Frankie Rhoden, as well as Frankie Rhoden’s fiancé.
His testimony indicated his father fatally shot the other three victims, Christopher Rhoden Sr., his cousin Gary Rhoden and his older brother, Kenneth Rhoden.
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