George Wagner IV back in court after family members take plea deals in Pike Co. killings

Posted at 7:01 AM, Sep 13, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-26 10:41:33-04

WAVERLY, Ohio — One of the chief suspects in the 2016 execution-style killings of a Pike County family appeared in court again Monday just days after his mother — also a suspect — accepted a plea deal last week.

But George Wagner IV left court that afternoon without changing his own plea. Judge Randy Deering said the motions that Wagner's team wished to modify required the presence of a court stenographer, and his courtroom did not have one at the time of Wagner's Monday hearing.

Wagner, along with his mother, Angela; father, Billy (first name, George); and younger brother, Jake (first name, Edward), all face charges in the deaths of eight members of the Rhoden family. Prosecutors said the killings arose out of a custody battle between Jake Wagner and Hanna May Rhoden, one of those killed in the overnight shootings.

In April, Jake Wagner pleaded guilty to eight counts of aggravated murder. Last week, Angela Wagner pleaded guilty to conspiracy and a handful of other charges in the family's deaths.

Both Jake and Angela Wagner's plea deals included testifying against other family members. Jake Wagner's plea allowed him to escape a potential death penalty sentence, and Angela Wagner pleaded guilty in exchange for having the aggravated murder charges against her dropped.

As of Monday morning, it was unclear whether George Wagner IV would change his initial not-guilty plea in light of the recent deals made by his family members and co-defendants. Last month, his attorneys said they planned to "take a step back" to examine his younger brother's admission in April but did not change his plea at that time.

Local defense attorney Carl Lewis — who is not involved in the case — said the succession of plea deals resembles a "domino effect."

"We can only surmise, based on what's going on, that the domino effect is in place," Lewis told WCPO. "As a defense lawyer, you meet with your client and say, 'Hey, the handwriting is on the wall. Your co-defendants are going to testify against you.' And not only are these co-defendants; they're family members. They're going to carry a lot more weight than the typical co-defendant who's been caught and is now trying to cut a deal for himself or herself."

George "Billy" Wagner will appear in court later this week.