WAVERLY, Ohio — On Monday, opening statements kicked off the first trial of a suspect accused of murdering eight people in Pike County six years ago.
George Wagner IV will be the first of several of his family members accused in the murders to face trial. He faces eight counts of murder with death penalty specifications and several other charges of forgery and conspiracy.
PIKE COUNTY TRIAL: "We are here because this defendant, George Wagner IV, and his brother and his father ... went up to Union Hill Rd, to three different locations ... and one location on Left Fork Rd .. and murdered 8 people who did not deserve to die."— Evan Millward (@EvanMillward) September 12, 2022
Here's everything you need to know about the Pike County murders:
On April 22, 2016, eight members of the Rhoden family were found shot to death in multiple homes throughout Pike County. They were all killed in a coordinated attack over one night while they slept.
Found dead were 40-year-old Christopher Rhoden Sr., 37-year-old Dana Rhoden, 20-year-old Hannah Gilley, 16-year-old Christopher Rhoden Jr., 20-year-old Clarence "Frankie" Rhoden, 37-year-old Gary Rhoden, 19-year-old Hanna Rhoden, and 44-year-old Kenneth Rhoden.
From there, a two-year investigation led to the arrests of six members of the Wagner family.
Indictments show four members of the Wagner family — George "Billy" Wagner III, Angela Wagner, George Wagner IV and Edward "Jake" Wagner — were charged with multiple counts of aggravated murder. Rita Newcomb, who is Angela Wagner's mother, and Fredericka Wagner, who is Billy Wagner's mother, were charged with obstructing justice and perjury.
Then-Attorney General Mike DeWine said he believed the massacre of the Rhoden family came down to a custody battle over a toddler: Jake Wagner and Hanna Rhoden had a child together.
Authorities allege the Wagners bought ammunition, a magazine clip, brass catchers and a bug detector to prepare for the crimes. The family also allegedly studied "counter-surveillance devices" on the properties, including pets, and tampered with phones, cameras and parts of a home security system, investigators said. The family also allegedly constructed a homemade silencer that was used in the shootings, officials said.
Charges against Fredericka were eventually dropped and Newcomb took a plea deal. Angela and Jake also agreed to plea deals.
On Monday, September 12, opening arguments are scheduled to begin in George's trial — the first of his family to face a jury. His trial was initially scheduled to begin on Tuesday, Sept. 6 but was delayed after a person important to the trial fell ill.
Billy has maintained a plea of not guilty, though a trial date has not yet been set for him.
What we expect from the first Pike County massacre trial:
Angela and Jake will take the stand
As part of their plea deals, George's mother and younger brother must testify in the trials of any family members. In exchange, the death penalty is removed from the table. Without their testimony, George and Billy still face the death penalty if convicted of murder charges.
A dramatic trial
From a motive rooted in a vicious custody battle over a child to a household vote deciding to kill the Rhodens, prosecutors have spent the last several years painting the feud between the two families as bitter, coloring the Wagners as cold, heartless assassins.
George's defense attorneys have argued much of the evidence has little to do with their client. They argue that George did not shoot or kill anyone.
New details about the evidence against George
Prosecutors have, in several motions hearings over the years, discussed evidence they have against George and other members of the family.
In May, prosecutors said Angela confessed to officials that the family took a vote to decide whether they would commit the murders.
"She speaks vividly of recalling speaking to Jake and George and asking if they were sure they wanted to go through with this, to which they both said 'yes,'" said Angela Canepa, special prosecutor, in May.
Prosecutors also allege Jake was violent with Hanna Rhoden on multiple occasions before she and her family were found murdered.
Canepa has also claimed Billy lured Christopher Rhoden Sr. to his death by setting up a fake "lucrative" drug deal at the Union Hill Road property in which he was ultimately found shot to death.
"Chris Sr. expected to see Billy Wagner that night," Canepa said. "He did not know Jake and George were present, because they were hidden in the car."
The defense attorneys have repeatedly requested certain evidence be disallowed during his trial, including audio recordings created from days of surveillance on the Wagner family.
George Wagner IV's trial is expected to last several weeks.
WCPO will livestream the entire trial from beginning to end. You can bookmark our live page here or download our WCPO app on your streaming connected TV (Roku, Amazon Fire, Apple TV and Android TV). We will also publish recap articles from the courtroom on our website every day court is in session.