Pike County massacre: Delay in change of venue decision for next Wagner trial
WAVERLY, Ohio (WXIX) - We’ll have to wait a little longer to find out if the upcoming trial of the final Wagner family member in the Pike County massacre will be moved out of the county at his defense team’s request due to publicity.
The state didn’t file a response to George “Billy” Wagner’s motion for a change of venue until right before Wednesday’s hearing, which has been set for several weeks. It’s not clear why the special prosecutor waited until the last minute to respond.
Now, the issue has been delayed until another hearing on Oct. 4.
The judge in the case also announced Wednesday that Wagner’s trial won’t be held now until mid-to-late spring 2024. It was expected to begin early next year.
Retired Brown County Common Pleas Court Judge R. Alan Corbin is overseeing the case now because the former Pike County prosecutor, Rob Junk, was elected to replace longtime Pike County Common Pleas Court Judge Randy Deering, who has retired.
Junk served as one of the prosecutors on the massacre case since day one with Special Prosecutor Angela Canepa, who remains on the case.
Wagner’s son, George Wagner IV, was sentenced late last year to serve life in prison without the possibility of parole on all eight aggravated murder charges and 14 related counts including burglary.
The eight life sentences will run consecutively for the 31-year-old who also was sentenced to an additional 121 years in prison for the other charges.
His father now faces a similar fate if convicted of the same 22 charges.
His attorneys are Mark Collins and Tom Hayes of Columbus.
George “Billy” Wagner III; his wife, Angela Wagner, and their two sons, George Wagner IV and Edward “Jake” Wagner, were all indicted in the April 21-22 murders of the Rhoden and Gilley families in rural Piketown, about two hours east of downtown Cincinnati.
Two Wagners, Jake and Angela, pleaded guilty in 2021.
As part of their plea deals, both testified for the state against George in his trial last year.
Prosecutors say the Wagners planned the execution-style murders for months so Jake Wagner could have sole custody of his daughter with one of the victims, Hanna May Rhoden.
Jake and Hanna began dating when she was 13 and he was 17. Their daughter was born in November 2015.
Hanna broke up with him but he didn’t want the relationship to end. She was 19 when she gave birth to a second baby, this time with another man, just days before Jake killed her, according to his testimony during his brother’s trial.
Jake Wagner said he personally shot her and killed four other of the eight victims: Dana Rhoden, 37, and her two other children, Chris Rhoden Jr. 16, and Frankie Rhoden, 20, as well as Frankie’s fiance, Hanna “Hazel” Gilley, also 20 and shot and wounded a sixth, Christopher Rhoden, Sr., 40.
He said his brother was supposed to shoot Rhoden Sr. but his brother “froze” so Jake Wagner said took his brother’s SKS rifle and pulled the trigger.
Jake Wagner’s testimony indicated his father fatally shot the other three victims, Christopher Rhoden Sr., Christopher Rhoden’s cousin Gary Rhoden and Christopher Rhoden’s older brother, Kenneth Rhoden.
The case is the largest homicide investigation to date in state history.
It involves nearly 5,000 pieces of evidence as well as a small army of investigators, analysts, forensic scientists and crime scene advocates.
Gov. Mike DeWine called George Wagner IV’s trial last year “one of the longest, if not the longest, trials in Ohio history.”
So far, the massacre investigation and prosecution has cost taxpayers about $4 million, according to state and local officials
Billy Wagner, 51, has pleaded not guilty to all 22 charges against him.
He remains locked up without bond at the Butler County Jail, where he has been held since he was arrested in November 2018.
If his case goes to trial, his youngest son and wife are expected to testify against him just like they did at his eldest son’s trial.
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