Jury hears wiretap recordings of Wagner family: ‘I feel like I’m living in Nazi Germany’
WAVERLY, Ohio (WXIX) - The jury in George Wagner IV’s murder trial listened Wednesday to secret recordings of the Wagner family.
The recordings are from wiretaps on their phones and one of their vehicles more than four years ago before the Wagners were arrested for the 2016 Pike County massacre.
The first ones played for jurors on Wednesday morning captured May 2018 telephone conversations between George Wagner IV’s younger brother, Jake Wagner, and his then-wife, Beth Ann.
The couple discussed his mother, Angela Wagner and Beth Ann’s struggles daily living with her while Jake Wagner traveled most of the week as a truck driver with his older brother. The two women were in the home alone caring for Jake and George’s young children.
Beth Ann testified last month that Angela Wagner ran things and accused of inappropriately touching Jake Wagner’s then-2-year-old daughter, Sophia, and then she was forbidden to be alone with her step-daughter and George Wagner IV’s toddler son, Bulvine.
“I feel like I’m living in Nazi Germany,” Beth Ann told Jake Wagner in the second recording played in court.
In other recorded calls played for the jury, a terse argument between Jake Wagner and his mother over her issues with his wife erupted into a shouting match when he told his mother she was being “delusional” and “going off the deep end.”
“Don’t you insult me,” Angela Wagner ordered her son. “You’ve done enough damage around here.”
The dispute escalated even further as Angela Wagner complained that her granddaughter knew (with Jake’s wife there) that Angela Wagner was her grandmother, not her mother. This clearly upset Angela Wagner, who was still convinced Beth Ann inappropriately touched her granddaughter.
Jake Wagner shouts at one point about his daughter: “You are not her mother, you are her grandmother!” He also his mother that she insults his wife “every day. You can’t stop insulting her.
In another batch of recordings played for the jury, Jake Wagner and his brother screamed at each other as they traveled in the “R&L Truck” as part of their jobs, according to evidence introduced Wednesday.
They also viciously argued over Jake Wagner’s wife. George Wagner IV accused his brother of believing his wife over his daughter.
He called Jake Wagner’s wife a “whore,” which Jake Wagner bitterly denied. The brothers screamed back and forth about that and then what God would want. Their dispute was laced with profanity and racial and anti-gay slurs.
George Wagner asked his brother if he would want Beth Ann to have his daughter while they were in jail. Jake Wagner responded no because his wife hasn’t been around long enough to know how to do things with his daughter the way he would want them. But, he told his brother “I sure as s--- trust her.”
“If we all go to the electric chair, would you want Beth to tell (Sophia) about it?” George Wagner responded.
Most of the tapes do not point directly to George IV’s involvement in the Pike County Massacre.
His attorneys say he wasn’t ever there on the night of April 21, 2016.
Jurors are being provided transcripts of the recordings as they listen.
Pike County Common Pleas Court Judge Randy Deering stressed the documents are simply listening aids.
The transcripts are not considered evidence, the recordings are, he ruled, adding that the jury will not have access to the transcripts during deliberations.
The recordings between the Wagners began in May 2018 and lasted into August 2018.
The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation sought the warrant for the wiretaps only after “exhausting” all other investigative techniques, the lead agent on the case testified Tuesday.
The entire investigative team agreed it was a necessary step to obtain the wiretaps, Special Agent Ryan Scheiderer said, pointing out how close-knit the Wagners were and kept discussions amongst themselves.
It also was a way for BCI to become aware of new or known associates and/or relatives of the Wagners so BCI could interview them, he testified.
On Wednesday, BCI Criminal Intelligence Analyst Julia Eveslage told the jury BCI had extensive legal training before using the wiretaps.
These recordings have been the subject of much debate in recent days between the state and defense. The attorneys got into a heated argument Tuesday and Friday, prompting the judge to send the jury home and cancel court on Friday.
Special Prosecutor Angela Canepa and John Parker, George IV’s attorney, both want to play audio recordings, but they disagreed over which ones and when the state informed the defense.
George Wagner IV and his brother and their parents, Billy Wagner, 51, and Angela Wagner, 52, were all indicted in November 2018 for the killings.
Prosecutors long have said custody and control over the then-2-year-old daughter of Jake Wagner and one of the victims, Hanna May Rhoden, 19, was the motive behind the slayings.
Angela Wagner and Jake Wagner both testified recently against George Wagner IV as part of their plea deals with the state after admitting their roles.
George Wagner, 31, and his father have pleaded not guilty and continue to fight all charges, including eight counts of aggravated murder.
Billy Wagner’s trial is expected to be held in Pike County next year.
Jake Wagner and Angela Wagner both testified that the entire family participated in the massacre.
Jake Wagner calmly recounted in graphic detail how he killed five of the eight victims, including the mother of his child, and shot and wounded a sixth.
He implicated his father in killing three of the victims and confirmed on the stand his brother George killed no one, shot no one and, in fact, never once fired his gun.
George Wagner’s attorneys unsuccessfully tried to have the murder charges thrown out against their client earlier this year before the trial started.
His brother and mother’s confessions prove he didn’t kill or even shoot anyone, they argued in court records and in person before the judge, but Deering refused to dismiss the charges.
The judge sided with the state, who contends George Wagner should be convicted of the murder charges because he actively participated in the planning, preparation and cover-up of the massacre.
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