Shoeprint expert testifies as Pike County massacre trial begins eighth week
WAVERLY, Ohio (WXIX) - George Wagner IV’s murder trial in the Pike County massacre resumed Monday with a nationally known shoeprint expert and multiple law enforcement agents testifying.
The jury also heard about divers finding fragments of the murder weapons, ones George Wagner’s younger brother, Jake Wagner, told the jury last week were hidden in cement-filled buckets used to anchor a goose house in a lake.
The guns were used to kill eight members of the Rhoden and Gilley families on April 21-22, 2016, according to Jake Wagner’s testimony.
The gun parts were in the water at Flying W Farms, one of many properties linked to the Wagner family that the Ohio Bureau of Investigation searched as agents worked to solve the state’s largest and most expensive murder case to date.
The lead Ohio BCI agent in the Pike County massacre, Ryan Scheiderer, returned to the witness stand Monday to testify that Jake’s 2021 plea agreement led investigators to search Flying W Farms in Lucasville.
Scheiderer explained what happened to the pickup truck the Wagners used the night of the killings.
Jake Wagner told investigators the morning after the murders, he saw his father take off in it.
Records from the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles show the title was transferred to Billy Wagner’s niece less than 24 hours after the killings, Scheiderer testified.
Lt. Ed Schillig of the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office leads the dive team that found the buckets in the lake.
He took the stand to tell and show the jury where they found the buckets. Then, divers turned them over to BCI, whose gun expert, Matt White, also testified Monday.
White told the jury how he broke the cement apart with a hammer to get to the three guns, parts and some of the ammunition.
Last week, Jake Wagner told the jury he used a Walther Colt 1911 .22 caliber pistol in the killings.
His father, Billy Wagner, was armed with a .40-caliber Glock. His brother was armed with an SKS rifle.
Jake Wagner testified Tuesday that he cut at least two of those three weapons in half with a grinding tool. He said his brother helped him, describing George Wagner as “strong as a bull ox.”
Jake Wagner told jurors he used a torch to melt down the firing pins and serial numbers to prevent the weapons from being traced back to the crimes. He said he disposed of the ashes in a Rumpke Dumpster at the family’s home at the time on Peterson Road property.
Here is what he said he burned:
- The clothes and shoes they wore
- DVR they removed from a marijuana grow house on Chris Rhoden Sr.’s property
- Cell phones collected from the victims’ rooms after they were shot to death
- Shell casings at some of the shooting scenes
Jake Wagner also testified that he broke up the guns, burned parts off them and then he and his brother dug a hole under a new barn on their land, placed the broken-up gun parts into a duffel bag and buried it under the barn.
He said on the stand he and his father dug the duffel back up later, removed the gun parts and put them in 5-gallon buckets filled with concrete, along with Jake Wagner’s hunting knife. He used the knife to try to pry open the door on one of the victim’s locked trailers but the knife broke off.
In other testimony Monday, one of the top shoeprint experts in the U.S., William Bodziak, told the jury Walmart Athletic Works shoes in sizes 10.5 or 11 matched shoeprints investigators found on the floor at the trailers of both Chris Rhoden Sr. and Dana Rhoden.
Prosecutors identified the shoes earlier in the trial as gray Walmart Athletic Works, sizes 10.5 wide and 11 wide.
However, under cross-examination by one of George Wagner IV’s attorneys, Bozdiak said he was not testifying that George Wagner left one of those shoeprint impressions.
He reiterated that he can only testify that the shoeprints matched the shoe brand.
Bodziak has testified in other high-profile murder cases including O.J. Simpson and Timothy McVeigh.
Days before the slayings, Angela Wagner was seen on security camera footage at the Waverly Walmart buying gray running shoes, prosecutors have said.
In her plea agreement, Angela Wagner admitted that she bought a brand of shoe that she said her sons would never wear and sizes that were larger than their feet.
Jake Wagner testified last week that he told his mother to buy the shoes.
On Tuesday, the state is expected to play recordings from 2018 wiretaps on the Wagners.
BCI Criminal Intelligence Analyst Julia Eveslage will return to the stand to explain these.
Prosecutors have said the taped conversations will corroborate their claim that George Wagner IV actively conspired with his family in the 2016 execution-style killings of eight members of the Rhoden and Gilley families.
George Wagner’s mother, Angela Wagner, also is expected to testify against her son at some point this week.
Last week, George Wagner’s brother, Jake Wagner, testified against him for four days.
George Wagner IV is the first member of his family to go on trial.
He and his father, Billy Wagner, 51, have both pleaded not guilty and are fighting the charges.
Jake Wagner, 28, and his mother, 52, pleaded guilty to their roles last year.
As part of their pleas, they agreed to testify against George Wagner, 31.
In exchange, prosecutors have dropped the possibility of the death penalty.
Prosecutors requested their testimonies take place off camera and the judge has been allowing all witnesses to opt out of being recorded if they choose just before they are set to take the stand.
Jake Wagner’s testimony was not recorded by the court.
Angela Wagner’s testimony is expected to occur off-camera as well.
Last week, Jake Wagner calmly explained in graphic detail how he and his family planned and carried out the shooting deaths of the mother of his child, Hanna May Rhoden, 19, and seven of her relatives.
Custody and control over the couple’s child, Sophia, is the motive behind the slayings, prosecutors have said.
Jake Wagner admitted on the stand he was “jealous” after Hanna May Rhoden broke up with him and began to see other men.
She gave birth to a second daughter with one of them just before Jake Wagner says he shot her in the head as she lay in bed breastfeeding.
In all, Jake Wagner says he killed four other victims besides Hanna May Rhoden: Her mother, Dana Rhoden, 37; her brothers, Chris Rhoden Jr., 16, and Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden, 20, and Frankie Rhoden’s fiance, Hannah “Hazel” Gilley, 20; and shot a sixth victim, Hanna May Rhoden’s father, Christopher Rhoden Sr.
Jake Wagner implicated his father, Billy Wagner, in the killings of Chris Rhoden Sr., Rhodens’s cousin, Gary Rhoden, and Rhoden’s older brother, Kenneth Rhoden.
Jake Wagner told the jury his older brother didn’t shoot a single person or even fire his gun once.
And, according to the confession and testimony of Jake Wagner and confession his mother, Angela Wagner, she didn’t fire a firearm either or even accompany the three Wagner men the night of the killings.
Jake Wagner said on the stand he had to talk his mom and brother into it - and ultimately his father.
He said Billy Wagner pulled the vehicle over on the way to the victims’ trailers and asked his son if he was really sure he wanted to do it. Jake Wagner said he did and they went through with it.
But, Jake Wagner did extensively testify that his brother actively participated in planning and covering up slayings.
His brother also was with him and his father the night of the killings and did nothing to stop them, according to his testimony.
The judge has refused to dismiss eight counts of aggravated murder against George Wagner IV even though the state also confirms he didn’t fire a shot.
Prosecutors say he can and should be convicted of the aggravated murder charges because he conspired with his family to kill the victims and actively participated in the planning and cover-up.
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