Pike County Massacre murder trial delayed
PIKE COUNTY, Ohio (WXIX) - The trial of George Wagner IV has been continued by one week.
The trial is now scheduled to start on Sept. 12. According to court documents, the delay is due to the illness of the special prosecutor.
George, 30, was supposed to have his trial begin on Sept. 6.
The first trial in the 2016 Pike County Massacre was set to begin after the jury was seated on Aug. 30.
Wagner is the first member of his family to have his case go to trial since eight members of the Rhoden family were killed in execution-style shootings.
After compiling the nine women and three men jury panel, the state and defense seated six alternates (five women and a man).
During jury selection, Wagner’s defense attorney John Parker told the jurors they might find the Wagner family “fascinating but a tangled web.”
A possible reference to the Wagner family dynamic, which a lead agent mentioned previously.
“Their finances are intermingled,” stated Ohio BCI Lead Agent Ryan Scheiderer. “They work together. They’ve always worked together. They live together. They home-school together. They raise their kids together. Everything is done together. As well as we have an informant who says every decision within that family is made as a family decision.”
In the days after being seated, jurors toured significant locations in connection with the 2016 case.
The locations included the ranch belonging to George’s grandmother, the former Wagner family property on Peterson Road in Peebles, the Union Hill Road address of Chris Rhoden, Senior, and the spot where Frankie Rhoden and his fiancée, Hazel Gilley, were killed.
Lead up to the trial
Wagner was indicted in November 2018 on a total of 22 charges, including eight counts of aggravated murder.
Wagner was also charged with 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.
When then 26-year-old George first entered the Pike County courtroom in 2018, the prosecutors began describing his role in the murders two and a half years earlier, but not before Judge Randy Deering asked him if he was guilty.
Judge Deering: “Mr. Wagner, is that what you wish to do, plead not guilty to all charges and specifications in the indictment?
That’s what Wagner did. He pleaded not guilty.
Geoge Wagner’s younger brother, Edward “Jake” Wagner, and his mother, Angela Wagner, both pleaded guilty last year for their roles.
Jake Wagner, 28, is now expected to testify against his own brother by taking the stand for the prosecution.
He pleaded guilty to eight counts of murder and 15 other charges including gun specifications, conspiracy, burglary, possession of dangerous ordnance and tampering with evidence.
In exchange, prosecutors say they will drop the possibility of the death penalty and Jake Wagner agreed to serve eight life sentences without parole.
His lawyer said Jake Wagner “knows he’s going to die in prison without any judicial relief.”
He is held at the Franklin County Jail.
His mother pleaded to conspiracy to commit aggravated murder, several counts of aggravated burglary, tampering with evidence, and other charges as part of a plea deal. The remaining eight counts of aggravated murder were dismissed.
The prosecution is recommending the 51-year-old woman serve 30 years in prison with no possibility of the death penalty. She currently is held at the jail in Delaware County.
The other Wagner still facing trial is the family patriarch, George “Billy” Wagner III, 50.
He remains locked up at the Butler County Jail on eight counts of aggravated murder, four counts of aggravated burglary, three counts of tampering with evidence, two counts of unlawful possession of dangerous ordnance and single counts of conspiracy, forgery, unauthorized use of computer or telecommunications, interception of wire, oral or electronic communication, obstructing justice and engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity.
In Jake Wagner’s plea agreement last April, he told prosecutors that he shot and killed five of the Rhodens and that his brother, George, didn’t shoot any of the victims.
George Wagner IV’s lawyers contend that the confessions from his mother and younger brother determine that he did not shoot or kill any member of the Rhoden family.
The judge refused to throw out the death penalty possibility for both George Wagner IV and Billy Wagner.
George will avoid the death penalty if Jake and his mother, Angela, testify truthfully against him.
George Wagner IV and his father have both pleaded not guilty.
Pike County Common Pleas Court Judge Randy Deering oversaw the proceedings when Jake Wagner and his mother formally pleaded guilty and he now will oversee the eldest son’s trial.
He barred cameras and recording devices during jury selection to protect the identities of potential jurors.
Generally speaking, the bar to qualify to sit on a jury is quite low. Potential jurors only have to convince the judge that they can be fair and unbiased during the trial and in their deliberations.
The judge told each potential juror that any personal or religious objection to the death penalty is not grounds for dismissal from jury selection.
He also told them they had to convince him they can fairly weigh the evidence with a “clean slate.”
A vast majority (if not all) of the potential jurors said during jury questioning over the past week that they either knew the Rhodens, had associations with them, or “heard” about the murders.
Many jurors disclosed during questioning they had a physical or emotional connection to the Pike County murders.
One said her brother was good friends with one of the victims, Chris Rhoden, Jr. She said she wasn’t sure if she would be able to look at crime scene photos.
She was excluded.
So was another woman who said she worked on social service cases including the surviving Rhoden children.
The judge did, however, accept a woman who said it would be “hard not to use outside knowledge when considering the case.”
With more than 250 people on the potential witness list, attorneys told the jury to expect this trial to last anywhere from six to eight weeks.
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